ROGERS PARK — Student journalists at Loyola University say the school’s president is making it impossible for them to do their jobs, calling the administration’s attempts to silence reporters “straight out of the Trump playbook.”
In an editorial that caught the attention of media-watchers across the country last week, student journalists at the Loyola Phoenix — Loyola’s independent student paper — took aim specifically at University President Jo Ann Rooney.
Henry Redman, editor-in-chief at the Phoenix, said under Rooney’s administration, it has become nearly impossible for student journalists to do their job. Even the most basic questions from reporters are routed through Loyola’s public relations department, where they get brief, crafted responses — if they get a response at all.
The Phoenix has operated independently for decades, but Redman said lately the treatment of student media by the university has become downright antagonistic.
Recently, a Phoenix reporter emailed several professors for a story about Loyola’s above-average number of women in STEM programs — what most would perceive as a positive piece about the university. After getting no response from professors involved in STEM, the reporter received aggressive email from the university’s public relations department.
“This is the third inquiry on this topic that has been forwarded my way, and I’ve been notified of several others,” the email read. “This is disrespectful and unacceptable. As I indicated in my email this morning, I am the first point of contact for the Phoenix for University-related requests.”
Redman said the Phoenix has faced backlash from the university regarding their reporting on campus matters regarding crime statistics, racial profiling and sexual assault. He said these are “important issues” and students have a right stay informed.
The Phoenix has started a running list of questions yet to be answered by the university. Redman said the list is growing almost daily.
Rooney, who has been president of the university sine 2016, defended the university media policy, saying Loyola treats student media the same as any other media outlet.
Before she came to Loyola, Rooney was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as undersecretary to the U.S. Navy — only to have her nomination pulled after significant backlash following Rooney’s comments about sexual assault in the military.
Block Club Chicago requested an interview with Rooney, but was instead redirected to a spokesperson from Loyola’s Marketing and Communication department. They provided a link to a university statement:
When asked again for an interview with Rooney, the spokesperson sent Block Club another statement.
“The president’s focus is on addressing this internally. We will be convening the Loyola Phoenix editor-in-chief and members of the School of Communication for constructive dialogue on this issue over the next few weeks.”
Redman said that “dialogue” never happened. Staff members at the Phoenix sent an email to Rooney asking for a formal sit down with her. Rooney responded to the email without addressing their request for an interview, instead offering the Phoenix a chance to speak with another public relations representative.
Rooney cited “inaccurate reporting” as a reason for the university’s strict media policy, but when asked to provide examples of what was inaccurate, she was unresponsive.
Redman said Rooney was angry that the paper compared her to President Trump.
“She found it unsettling to be in a picture next to Trump but then essentially calls us fake news,” he said.
Robert Herguth is an investigative reporter with the Chicago Sun-Times. He is also the faculty advisor for the Phoenix, guiding the student reporters while allowing them to maintain their independence. He has been at Loyola for over a decade and says he “fully supports” the students in their fight for transparency.
“I’ve never seen the administration behave like this,” Herguth said.
Journalists at the Phoenix say they will continue to demand a sit-down interview with Rooney, but they aren’t feeling optimistic about their chances.
After the editorial was published, two separate petitions were started in support of the Phoenix staff; the first by alumni and supporters of the Phoenix and another by the school’scollege of communication faculty.
“We (…) teach our students the value of free speech, a free and open exchange of ideas, and transparency,” the faculty petition states. “We believe that Loyola’s Media Relations Policy is not in accordance with those values.”
Redman said he hopes the Phoenix can remain independent, but does fear that the school could take editorial control of the paper.
“It’s in the back of our minds,” he said. “But I think it would be further down the road.”
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