‘Protocol’ doesn’t exist in writing
The University of North Alabama has a friendly reminder to faculty: You’ll talk when we let you talk.
The Flor-Ala reports this week that an unidentified “vice president” of the Florence, Alabama school “issued a reminder” to faculty and staff last month. They were told they are not to answer questions from reporters “without the administration’s examination of all inquiries beforehand.”
The taxpayer-funded university wants all inquiries routed through the communications and marketing office “so the proper administrators can examine the faculty and staff members’ responses before releasing them to the media,” according to the student newspaper, citing spokesperson Bryan Rachal.
The Flor-Ala said there is “no official documentation” of this so-called protocol, which “does not exist within the employee handbook,” though Rachal says it’s been in placed for three years.
Rachal said his office gives the local media “a reminder” every year that reporters are to direct all queries through his office.
The spokesperson portrayed the unwritten protocol as something the university “asks” employees to follow, and says they won’t be punished for failing to follow it.
The student paper learned about the protocol last month when the campus police chief and a student affairs staffer told reporters the same day they weren’t allowed to talk to the media.
Rachel refused to tell the paper why reminders were sent to employees Oct. 25, or identify the “vice president” that Police Chief Kevin Gillian said told him about the protocol “earlier today.”
Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida, said the protocol “creates an intimidating climate for employees if they feel that their interactions with journalists are being tracked and monitored.”
He told the Flor-Ala that the unwritten protocol has the tendency to “steer reporters away from people with views critical of university policies,” and motivate public relations staff to “deny the interview altogether and expect the reporter to be satisfied with a canned statement.”
The University of North Alabama earns a “yellow light” speech-code rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, owing to four policies whose ambiguity “too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application.”
Reminder that public agencies, including universities, can't forbid their employees from granting "unapproved" interviews with news media. https://t.co/1KLPdpeCLT If your agency enforces a gag rule, we want to know: [email protected]
— Brechner Center (@BrechnerCenter) November 9, 2018