Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Student journalists are first and foremost students

Syllabi for college courses tend to say a lot of the same things: no cheating, no plagiarism, no late assignments. It’s a pretty standard list. But one economics professor at Duke University added something a little different to the list: No one on staff at The Chronicle would be permitted in her class.

This did not go unnoticed by the staff of The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper. When reporters at the publication saw this stipulation on the syllabus for Linsey Lebowitz Hughes’ class, “Inside Hedge Funds,” they did more than notice — they wrote an article about it.

In its entirety, Hughes’ rule reads: “Audio recordings of this class are not permitted and students will be asked to keep the information shared by some of our guest speakers confidential. Anyone who is on the staff of The Chronicle is not permitted to take this class. Please honor this in order that we can continue to get high quality visitors and information.”

This is unquestionably unacceptable — as clearly evidenced by how quick Hughes was to remove the rule from her syllabus upon the article’s publication. But in attempting to bar student journalists from her course, Hughes got the exact thing she didn’t want for her class — press. And rightly so.

Although in practice, it would be impossible to either enforce the stipulation or to determine whether any students avoided the class because of it, the issues with this rule go far beyond its impacts on actual students. The larger attitude it presents towards student journalism is where the real problem lies.

Hughes declined to comment on her syllabus, but another member of the school’s economics department, Emma Rasiel, told The Chronicle it was nothing more than a “poorly worded attempt to remind students that the comments of guest speakers should be considered ‘off the record’ and not reported in the media or on social media.”

The rule could have easily excluded making remarks about The Chronicle and still achieved the same effect — but it didn’t. Instead, the professor chose to actively target student journalists, not trusting them to even enroll in her class. In short, what happened was discrimination.

Student journalists are first and foremost students. Barring them from a class that could have been interesting and valuable to their academic careers purely because of the extracurricular activities they choose to get involved in is way out of line, no matter what concerns professors might have with those extracurriculars. If a professor had a grudge against hockey players, and refused to allow them in their classes because of it, they would have been equally in the wrong as Hughes was in this instance.

But what’s almost worse is that Hughes was so tight-lipped about the incident. It’s pretty clear that she knows what she did was wrong, as the rule has since been rewritten. The fact that there’s any amount of secrecy here implies that she is in some way standing by the stipulation — and she shouldn’t be.

Though this might have been a unique incident, it does not stand entirely alone. It is indicative of a much larger trend we are seeing right now. We all know these past few months have been marked by an increasing distrust towards the media, but what this incident shows us is that it’s possible for a rift to grow between universities and student journalists.

Schools should be places for free thought and expression, and journalism is a part of that. Although, as a student newspaper, we’re admittedly biased, the role of student journalism is so important — especially at private universities — but interactions like these are working against that. The purpose of these publications is all about being critical and telling the truth. Colleges and universities should be inviting that kind of discourse into their classes, not barring it.

Hughes was way off base in her syllabus. Staff members at The Chronicle shouldn’t have had to write an article exposing a class to be allowed to take it. Student journalism can bring a campus so much good, and it is so troubling that professors can’t see that. At the end of the day, it’s simple: Student journalists should be welcomed into classes, not excluded from them.

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