Proposed policy gags communication between college employees, media

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President Robert Vela talks about this college’s work-study hiring process at the board of trustees committee of the whole meeting Aug. 14 in Killen. For the 2018-19 fiscal year, the district is receiving $3,829,333 in work-study funds compared to the 2017-18 fiscal year funding of $1,159,777. Since the funds are not guaranteed year-to-year, the district is focusing on hiring additional work-study students rather than increasing wages. Vela said this college is reaching out to departments and adding peer advisors and mentors to the onboarding process. V. Finster

District support operations proposes official communications policy.

By Kimberly Caballero

kcaballero3@student.alamo.edu

A proposed policy could soon hinder communication between employees and media, including student media.

The Alamo Colleges board’s Policy and Long-Range Planning Committee proposed a new policy Aug. 14.

The C.4.1 (Policy) Communications states its purpose is “to establish policy, procedures and guidelines for public communication between Alamo Colleges District officials, employees, news media representatives and others requiring information concerning ACD issues, programs, projects, services and activities.”

One of the policy’s requirements is that faculty and other employees receive approval from a college public relations department before all media interviews, regardless of topic or extent of interview.

Kristi Wyatt, associate vice chancellor of communications and engagement, said employees are required to inform the public relations department of media requests and receive approval before being interviewed.

“We ask if they are being interviewed by any of the media, student media or any of our other media partners, that they let us know and that they talk to us because we can coordinate a response,” she said.

Initially, the policy was expected to be listed on the Aug. 21 regular board meeting agenda, but Wyatt confirmed Aug. 16 she and legal withdrew the policy for further review and possible modifications.

Legal, human resources and the Public Relations Council plan to review the proposal again.

The PR Council, which meets monthly to discuss public information, communications and marketing, consists of the Alamo College’s PR directors; Mario Muniz, director of strategic communications; and Wyatt.

Once legal, HR and the PR Council review the policy, it will be brought before the presidents and vice chancellors committee, also known as the PVC, for a second time.

“Most organizations have some kind of policy that governs how you communicate because it makes sense to have guidelines — it makes sense to have a clear direction that you can go to because speaking on behalf of an organization is very important,” she said.

Alamo Colleges employees are considered to be speaking on behalf of an organization if their title is used in a news story, Wyatt said.

If employees do not get approval from PR, they should not use a district title, district time or equipment, the policy states.

Tony Villanueva, president of Palo Alto’s American Association of University Professors, encourages dialogue on campuses.

“Historically, colleges and universities are seen as the marketplace of ideas, which means that in areas of dialogue that are controversial, we participate in discussion that allows for all ideas to be shared, including controversial ones.

“Society benefits when students are allowed to express their ideas openly, and faculty champion open dialogue,” he said.

Villanueva said communication is hindered when there is communication interference.

“Media should have access to students and faculty without interference from policies that inhibit appropriate communication,” he said.

Mariano Aguilar, Mexican-American studies and English professor, said the policy “stifles” the press.

“In many cases, the best sources of information won’t be available to the press,” he said.

It will also “create a terrible nightmare for public relations” if every employee who receives a media request first contacts PR for permission, he said.

Under the policy, college presidents can contact media without PR’s approval; however, they must notify their PR department after media contact to inform them an interview has been conducted.

Wyatt said she encourages conversation on the policy.

“I encourage our student media, I encourage our state, regional, community media, if you have questions about this, if you have issues, we are open to discussion.”

Upon reviewing the guideline in the policy stating “employees must also direct all media requests to the Communications Office or their college PR office,” college public relations Director Vanessa Torres said it has not been the practice of this college to require permission before speaking with student media.

The college does not usually intervene when The Ranger speaks to employees, she said.

Torres said when the policy is brought before the PR Council, it will give her another opportunity to discuss and make recommendations.

“I would still be interested in further clarification on practices at colleges versus district and clearer wording,” she said.

Wyatt said the policy could be brought before the entire board or a committee as early as its next meeting, Sept. 11.

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2 Comments

  1. CHRISTY WOODWARD KAUPERT on

    Like many professors in our community, I have received requests for comment from SA Express, Rivard and independent journalists. They are not contacting me BECAUSE I am an ACCD employee, but because my credibility and credentials have been recognized as legitimate by virtue of my profession. To think that any of us, in our capacity as subject matter experts would have to be ‘vetted’ by District PR is ludicrous. The Board of Trustees, our administration, our peers and our accrediting body recognizes our authority to speak on matters respecting our subject matter. That should be sufficient.

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