Free speech is not the issue, reporting accurately is

As journalism students, we are taught the importance of remaining objective in every one of our classes.

However, it is hard to remain objective when we see so many professional journalists butchering a story about our university.

A 56-year-old non-traditional student at Oakland University is currently fighting a three-semester suspension for violating ordinance 6.02, unlawful individual activities, of the University Ordinances and Regulations handbook.

Instead of reporting accurately and getting a balanced account of the situation, most of the reporters got many of the facts wrong.

The student made his rounds to various media outlets — both local and some national — telling his one-sided account.

Unfortunately, OU cannot speak on the matter because if they do, the student is threatening to sue over Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act violations.

However, there are many professors and students involved in the situation who have made it clear they would have been more than willing to share their side of the story. They comment in forums and on our website — anywhere they could make their voice heard.

As subscribers to Google Alerts, we saw almost every story pertaining to this instance and were baffled at the faulty news coverage.

Many organizations reported that the student was suspended for sexual harassment, which isn’t true. It was for violating the ordinance listed above.

Mary Beth Snyder, vice president of student affairs and enrollment management, wrote the student a letter dated Dec. 7, 2011 regarding numerous listed instances of inappropriate behavior.

The letter, which asks the student to withdrawal from winter 2012 classes, said “the university began receiving complaints that your behavior was perceived by female members of the campus community as intimidating and/or threatening.”

Behaviors listed include a late night phone call to a female student who never gave out her phone number, unsolicited stories of a sexual nature sent to a female faculty member who the student invited to meet with off campus and an incident involving The Oakland Post and a past editor-in-chief.

The student was not suspended for voicing that he found his professor attractive. He was suspended for his “threatening” behavior around campus.

While we are all for freedom of speech and student rights, those rights were not violated.

It is unfortunate when OU is put under the spotlight under such negative circumstances.

If anything, journalists can use this as a life lesson: Do not wait for things to happen. Pay more attention to what you are doing. Do not push your limits. Be more careful. Spend more time researching and ask questions.

And always, always make sure you’re covering both sides of the story.


The staff editorial is written weekly by members of The Oakland Post’s editorial board.