Alamo Colleges official addresses concerns about proposed communication policy

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Kristi Wyatt, Associate Vice Chancellor of communications and engagement discusses the C.4.1. Communications Policy at the Faculty Senate meeting on Sept. 14 in visual arts center. Wyatt spoke about being aware of what can be said to the media when representing the school. Lennie Irvin, Professor of English and Senate President introduced Wyatt in the meeting. Christina Emmett

Faculty Senate president approves of new draft of the policy.

By Sergio Medina

Smedina104@student.alamo.edu

The Faculty Senate received Kristi Wyatt, associate vice chancellor of communications and engagement, during its Sept. 14 meeting to talk about a new draft for proposed C.4.1 (Policy) Communications that, at its conception in August, had the potential to filter communication between media — including student media — and faculty.

The original draft of the policy requested faculty and staff of the Alamo Colleges not use a college title when interviewed by the media as a private citizen about district-related affairs. Also, faculty would have had to notify their respective public relations office prior to any interview. In addition, PR offices would have had to coach faculty on how to respond during interviews.

Wyatt attended the Sept. 14 Faculty Senate meeting to notify its members about a new draft and its revised provisions, as well as address any doubts about policy directives toward media.

“The intent of the original policy wasn’t to stifle your contact with the media,” she said. “Really, it was about issues pertaining to the opinion of the district, or the position of the district. You’re speaking on behalf of yourself, then that’s fine; if you’re speaking on behalf of the district, then that should be channeled through us so that we can ensure that we have clear and consistent communication.

“I didn’t make that very clear,” Wyatt said.

The original draft was withdrawn Aug. 16 for further review after feedback was received from faculty and staff, she said.

While the new draft is for employees in district support operations, Wyatt said a version for the district has not been written but expects that version to have similar language and not be as restrictive as the original draft.

“I know that doesn’t pertain to you; you all work at SAC,” she said. “You don’t work at DSO, but I thought it was important to share with you what we’re doing at DSO because as we start to take a look at creating a procedure for the colleges, we may use this as a frame of reference.”

A disclaimer found in the new draft and absent from the original, clarifies that DSO employees, faculty and staff are not prohibited from expressing opinions to the media. Additionally, “Employees may respond to media requests regarding their research, teaching, scholarship or professional expertise.”

Wyatt said while there is no need for asking for permission, faculty would be encouraged to share interactions with media with the PR office for the sake of “professional courtesy” and promote such interaction, whether it’s through social media or with the other colleges.

Wyatt also addressed the wording used in the original draft for “controversial” events.

In the original draft, events that could be considered negative, embarrassing, threatening to public health and safety as well as events “that might produce follow-up questions from the media,” must be reported to the DSO or PR office.

However, the new draft does not include such wording, leaving only the necessity to report public health and safety threats.

“We removed that because of the feedback that we received,” Wyatt said.

Wyatt said she has shared the revised policy with the presidents and vice chancellors committee, PR council, staff senate, united faculty senate, and is going throughout the district, visiting faculty senates to get additional feedback.

“I appreciate any input that you have,” she said to faculty. “I really want this to be a partnership in building trust.

“We don’t want to stop anyone from talking to the media”, she added.

Math Professor Gerald Busald, who had previously expressed concern about the nature of the policy in a Ranger article, had a change of opinion after Wyatt’s appearance.

“The way it was originally presented seemed much more restrictive than what she was talking about,” he said. “My main concern is that faculty be able to share their expertise without going through a filter.”

Busald, whose statistics students have found errors in the promotional materials of the Texas lottery, has a great deal of experience with the media.

Busald said, if media is turned away, that could send them to another institution to obtain expertise or information, driving away potential attention for the district.

However, he said a lot of his fears originating from the first draft of the policy were put to rest.

As it stands, if the language of the DSO’s version is implemented to the entire district to become actual policy, Busald said he would be fine with that.

“I think so; yeah, I don’t see a real issue,” he said. “Especially because I can still write a letter to the editor saying, ‘I don’t like that the district did this’ — that’s my opinion, and as long as I’m not stifled from criticizing the district, if the district needs to be criticized, then I’m OK.

“To stifle any criticism is bad,” Busald added.

Similarly, Lennie Irvin, English professor and president of Faculty Senate at this college, said the newer draft of the policy is an improvement.

“This version is much better than the previous version,” he said. “It does seem to alleviate some of the chief concerns people had about being able to speak with the press.

“The thing that she seemed to distinguish that made sense to me was that, if you’re speaking as an individual — like I am now — we can speak to the press, but if I’m speaking to you representing San Antonio College, then they want us to go through their office to, I guess, coordinate that communication,” he said.

Irvin said if the college version of the policy became more restrictive in its language as opposed to the DSO’s, it would become a topic for discussion in future senate meetings.

Faculty and staff interested in sending feedback on the proposed policy can email Wyatt at kwyatt12@alamo.edu.

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