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Evaluating the safety of our staff in a snowstorm

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The snow piles up on the ground outside, finally beginning to slow, yet its remnants promise to keep the conditions for the day dangerous and uncertain. Branches and fallen trees block pathways in the borough, and some residential areas darken as a result of damaged power lines.

Meanwhile, on campus, students roam the college and desperately hope their classes will be cancelled. Some students walk up the path of Parrish Beach, trudging the path that the essential employees from the grounds crew worked to clear. As these Swatties entered Parrish, however, they may have been surprised to notice that, despite many essential staff members reporting to work, the administrative office hall was practically a ghost town. Many administrative members deemed the snowy conditions too severe to come to work, despite the fact that required staff, including many EVS workers, dining staff, and grounds workers, were required to report to work in spite of the storm.

We at the Phoenix find this unfair as it places an unequal burden on essential staff relative to the administration. While we recognize that many people could not make it to work due to the conditions and while we respect the need to practice safety precautions, it is absolutely unfair that many higher administrators did not have to report to work while many staff members were not given the same options to practice such precautions. These staff members were not allowed to follow these precautions despite the fact that they are not paid as high a salary as the deans, and many do not have as reliable winter transportation considering some depend on public transportation. We believe that it sends the wrong message to staff members in our community that that their safety is not as important as the safety of other employees. This is especially a problem in that it demonstrates a hierarchy of importance in the college that respects the decisions and safety of higher administration without equally respecting this integrity of other staff members.

Of course, we at the Phoenix recognize that some staff truly are essential to the maintenance of the college, and that it would have been nearly impossible to maintain the college without these employees. For example, some members of grounds crew were absolutely essential in ensuring that paths remained clear and, thanks tremendously to them, students were still able to roam the paths of campus and make it to their scheduled classes without trudging through inches of snow. Dining staff in Sharples, Essie’s, Kohlberg, and Science Center were needed so that students could still eat properly in spite of the storm. And to be fair, we at the Phoenix recognize that the college did not necessarily make all EVS staff report to work, but left it up to “relevant departments” to decide if all staff members were absolutely necessary.

However, we at the Phoenix believe this becomes an issue when all of these essential staff members are expected to report to work, yet many members of the administration and higher staff do not need to follow the same expectations. While some of the administration may work from home, it still does not change the fact that they are not standing in solidarity with the essential staff who have no choice but to report to work. Clearly, changes in college policy need to be made to ensure that these staff members are still respected and treated fairly amongst other members of the college community. As a result, we at the Phoenix call for Swarthmore to either increase their expectations of the administration and higher staff to report to work or that the required staff members who do report to work receive extra compensation and respect for their time.

 

Updates to Quoting Policy

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Coming off of election years, national news publications, such as the New York Times, cite issues with campaign offices having tight lips and hesitant hands. The offices revise, redact, and reform quotes to fit a narrative. Journalists have trouble developing stories because of this policy called quote revision, which enables the places and people they report on to manage what they say officially. Stories and reporting tactics are hampered because the honest quotes — the less-than-polished, off-the-cuff words of people — are refined by bureaucracy and management.

Now, the problems for college journalists are not of the same sensitivity or degree as those of national news organizations; they are, however, persistent and ubiquitous on our campuses. At Swarthmore, as a small college community, not only does everyone know each other, but everyone knows what others say. This fact can often cause friction for college papers. Sources understandably want to ensure their images are not marred in the publication of a controversial piece or in the leak of sensitive information. However, these intentions conflict with journalism’s goals of telling honest, well-rounded, and meaningful stories.

Previously, the Phoenix has maintained a de-facto quoting policy through which sources could retract quotes that were once on the record. This policy was meant to serve the campus community. In recent years, however, the policy has had the unintended consequence of limiting writers’ ability to cover stories earnestly and the Phoenix’s ability to report campus events accurately.

As a result, the Phoenix has decided to change its quoting policy, so the campus benefits from better reporting while it maintains access to quotes. The new policy states that sources who had previously provided quotes on the record are expected to be treated as on the record. Retracted quotes will be considered in only extreme cases. Less frank quotes reduce stories’ ability to convey the truth. In the event of an extenuating circumstance, a source may withhold their quotes pending a meeting with Phoenix staff. This is actually not a new policy at the Phoenix; rather, it is the reiteration of our current policy. Certain editors have ventured away from this policy in the name of transparency and dialogue, but these decisions have caused more problems than solutions, and thus we feel compelled to reiterate our original policy. Furthermore, although we will not allow sources to retract or revise their quotes, sources may request for their quotes to be sent to them before publication.

It is also important to clarify the distinctions between information that is considerd “on the record” and “off”. On the record information is information that can be quoted or used toward a piece’s final published form and is attributed to the source. This information is usually obtained over in-person interviews, phone calls, and email correspondence. Off the record information cannot be reported in the final published piece. However, off the record information can be used to motivate further research and find new sources who can provide the same or different information on the record. Once a Phoenix reporter identifies themselves as a reporter to a potential source, all correspondence thereafter is assumed to be on the record unless otherwise specified. Also, a source may be referred to as an anonymous source, pending a meeting with Phoenix staff.

For reference, this change comes after many other established institutions have made similar policy changes or comments. The New York Times, in addition to other college publications like the Harvard Crimson, holds similar quoting policies in order to avoid these skewed and sterile quotes.

The Phoenix recognizes that we are not the New York Times, and the situations both papers find themselves in are very different. Our change is not because of a concern with “getting the scoop” or catching people in a bad light. Although we do want to hold the college and community accountable, this reasoning is not the root of this policy change. Instead, quote revision prevents dialogue and the exchange of ideas from taking place. Therefore, restating and reaffirming our practices and policies as they were intended to be followed ensures that we are a place of discourse where ideas are offered up for discussion and comparison.

Updates to Quoting Policy

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Coming off of election years, national news publications, such as the New York Times, cite issues with campaign offices having tight lips and hesitant hands. The offices, barring campaign spokespeople, revise, redact, and reform quotes to fit a narrative, a voice, and a message. Journalists have trouble developing stories because of this policy called quote revision, which enables the places and people they report on to manage what they say officially. Stories and reporting tactics are hampered because the honest quotes — the less-than-polished, off-the-cuff words of people — are refined by bureaucracy and management.

Now, the problems for college journalists are not of the same sensitivity or degree as those of national news organizations; they are, however, persistent and ubiquitous on our campuses. At Swarthmore, as a small college community, not only does everyone know each other, but everyone knows what others say. This fact can often cause friction for college papers. Sources understandably want to ensure their images are not marred in the publication of a controversial piece or in the leak of sensitive information. However, these intentions conflict with journalism’s goals of telling honest, well-rounded, and meaningful stories.

Previously, the Phoenix has maintained a quoting policy through which sources could retract quotes that were once on the record. This policy was meant to serve the campus community and help constituents maintain their reputations. In recent years, however, the policy has had unintended consequences of limiting writers’ ability to cover stories earnestly and the Phoenix’s ability to report campus events accurately.

As a result, the Phoenix has decided to change its quoting policy, so the campus benefits from better reporting while it maintains access to quotes. The new policy states that sources who had previously provided quotes on the record cannot retract quotes. Less frank quotes reduce stories’ ability to convey the truth. To offset worry, in the event of an extenuating circumstance, a source may withhold their quotes pending a meeting with Phoenix staff. Furthermore, although we will not allow sources to retract or revise their quotes, sources may request for their quotes to be sent to them before publication.

It is also important to clarify the distinctions between information that is on the record and off. On the record information is information that can be quoted or used toward a piece’s final published form and is attributed to the source. This information is usually obtained over in-person interviews, phone calls, and email correspondence. Off the record information cannot be reported in the final published piece. However, off the record information can be used to motivate further research and find new sources who can provide the same or different information on the record. Once a Phoenix reporter identifies themselves as a reporter to a potential source, all correspondence thereafter is assumed to be on the record unless otherwise specified. Also, a source may be referred to as an anonymous source, pending a meeting with Phoenix staff.

For reference, this change comes after many other established institutions have made similar policy changes or comments. The New York Times, in addition to other college publications like the Harvard Crimson, holds similar quoting policies in order to avoid these skewed and sterile quotes.

The Phoenix recognizes that we are not the New York Times, and the situations both papers find themselves in are very different. Our change is not because of a concern with “getting the scoop” or catching people in a bad light. Although we do want to hold the college and community accountable, this reasoning is not the root of this policy change. Instead, quote revision prevents dialogue and the exchange of ideas from taking place. This change ensures that we are a place of discourse where ideas are offered up for discussion and comparison.

Student Council marches on in its war on accountability

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Several weeks ago, Student Council announced that all its meetings would take place off the record. The Phoenix was hopeful that the organization might reconsider its decision.

But instead, StuCo decided to do the exact opposite. According to the Daily Gazette’s April 2 StuCo report, starting next week, not only will all StuCo meetings be off the record, but from now on, the individual opinions and votes of its members will be kept secret.

“[S]ometimes people don’t want their names attached to their stance,” said StuCo Co-President Jason Heo ’15.

For those who have sympathy for Heo’s position, the Phoenix has a friendly suggestion: don’t run for elected office. But given that Student Council is a body composed entirely of elected representatives, this decision is utterly indefensible.

Indeed, Heo’s quote is so ridiculous that one might confuse it for a belated April Fool’s Day joke. But make no mistake, our Student Council co-president has just seriously claimed that he and his colleagues may hide their votes on matters of potential importance to the student body.

That a democratic body cannot sequester itself from public scrutiny would seem to be obvious. Allowing elected members the right to keep their views and decisions from the public eye does more than just decrease representation. It is antithetical to its very definition.

But given StuCo’s recent trend of decreasing accountability, it appears that the organization’s members are utterly incapable of understanding even this most basic principle of democratic governance. We will therefore explain the problem using ideas found in a document that we hope even StuCo can understand: its own constitution.

According to the Student Council constitution’s mission statement, StuCo “must strive in all its actions to be both transparent and accountable.” On this alone, we would contend that StuCo’s action is unconstitutional.

But the document goes further. In its procedures section, the constitution states that “all motions shall be decided by an open vote, and each individual vote cast on every motion shall be recorded in the minutes.” Thus, their decision does not merely transgress on the constitution’s theoretical principle of transparency. It is an explicit violation.

It also certainly puts to rest any illusions that StuCo’s leaders seek to increase the group’s accountability and transparency, for students cannot hold their representatives accountable if they are forbidden from knowing how they vote or what their stances are. Furthermore, if StuCo members decide to run for more than one term, voters will be unable to scrutinize their records, as no records will exist.

But most of all, we are curious as to what it is that StuCo members are trying to hide. Given its notoriety as an organization that accomplishes very little, why does it suddenly need to shroud itself in secrecy? In other words, what are its members afraid of us knowing about them? Their opinions on subsidized SEPTA tickets? How they feel about their new office?

Indeed, this decision is particularly disconcerting precisely because it exacerbates the disconnect between Student Council and the people they represent. After all, it is difficult to connect with our representatives when we are forbidden to know what they stand for.

In spite of all this, StuCo has attempted to defend these policy changes. In today’s letter to the editor, Heo and StuCo’s other co-president, Lanie Schlessinger ’15, state that these changes were not only benign, but needed. Campus media, they argue, “have not been sufficiently accurate in portraying the projects we have been working on or the processes by which we make decisions.”

The term “sufficiently accurate” is telling, for it implies that StuCo gets to be the arbiter of deciding how its policies and decisions are to be discussed and interpreted. Even if reporters have not done due diligence in covering their meetings, surely the solution is not to give StuCo complete power over the presentation of their policies.

In addition, Heo and Schlessinger chronicled all the new steps StuCo is taking to “further increase transparency,” which consist of displaying their minutes (which, incidentally, have not been updated since March 4) and virtual comment box in more prominent locations, tabling at Sharples and creating a new Facebook page. Clearly, Heo and Schlessinger are confused as to what the word “transparency” means, for none of the steps they list actually increase the ability of those unaffiliated with StuCo to independently evaluate its policies, decisions and practices. What StuCo is doing amounts to nothing more than an aggressive PR campaign.

StuCo must therefore immediately reverse course and reinstate its policies of open voting and on-the-record meetings. Its constitution commands it. Democracy demands it. And most of all, students deserve to judge for themselves if the people they elect to represent them are doing their jobs.

Students Can’t Wait for National Press

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

For the last several months, a great deal of justifiable outrage has been directed at Swarthmore’s administration. From calls of insufficient attention toward diversity to accusations of blatant violations of federal law, criticism has been frequent and furious. While the administration has responded to much of this criticism, and many positive steps have been taken, we feel that their responses have been more delayed than they could have been, and that they have been insufficiently transparent and communicative with the student body.

It is commendable that the administration has made efforts to change its policies concerning its handling of cases of sexual assault. The process is not yet over, and new policies are not complete, yet the administration seems to be taking steps in the right direction. What is concerning, however, is what was necessary for this process to begin. Student complaints have made their way to the administration for years with little to no effect. Even as students came together on campus to demand changes in administration policy, no concrete steps were taken. Actions that were confined to the college itself seem to have had little impact on administration policy.

The seeds of change only seem to have come once the conversation was no longer confined within the college. Faced with lawsuits and national media attention, the administration began to respond seriously, and eventually began to take steps towards changing its policies. Though the administration had seemed unwilling to act when confronted by students, they became willing once they were in the national spotlight.

This is not the first time that Swarthmore has received some measure of national attention but this last year the attention was greater than ever before, coinciding with similar issues being raised at other colleges, including Occidental, Oberlin, and UNC. This level of attention being directed at administration policies was unprecedented, and finally forced action.

This should not be necessary for the administration to act quickly and effectively. National media attention should not be required for the administration to listen to its own students. Lawsuits should not be necessary for the college to follow the law.

The primary constituency of the college should be its students. We urge the college to be more receptive to its students and to be more forthcoming with information about its intentions. While we commend the administration for its recent efforts and actions, we hope that in the future they will respond earlier, and to the students themselves. There is work left to be done, as there will always be, and Swarthmore is not perfect. If the administration were more responsive and more willing to make necessary changes earlier, matters would be less likely to ascend to the level of the national media.

As long as the college needs national attention to force it into action, national attention it will get, and students will continue to feel that they are unheard and unrepresented.

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