The Echo submits to administrative censorship

President Greene’s State of the College address was delivered confidently, succinctly, and to great reception. In essence, it seemed to be a proud reflection on his presidency thus far at Colby. But, just moments prior, his administration took a step that greatly undermined that image: they censored the Echo. Even worse, our own newspaper took no initiative to stand up for itself, the first amendment, or the student body.

The Echo had planned to livestream and record the State of the College address, so that students not present could still hear President Greene’s address to Colby. Shockingly, shortly before the address, the Echo’s recording team was approached by a member of President Greene’s staff and informed that they could not proceed with the recording. The Administration explained that the recording caught them by surprise, and that such actions needed to be discussed in advance of an event. However, their implication was that filming the event would not have been allowed anyways, because of the unpredictability of “the Q&A.” In their frantic assurances, this phrase became their mantra: “it’s the Q&A.”

This decision may appear minimal and inconsequential; however, it has profound effects on the student body. If student media cannot film or record freely, then they may only do so with the tacit approval of the Administration. Such a policy leads us to form some uncomfortable questions. What is the President saying that the greater public should not hear? Does the Administration fear the open comments of Colby students, or how President Greene may speak off-the-cuff? I do not ask these questions lightly, because they call into suspect the Administration’s priorities.

It is clear from this instance that the Administration favors image over transparency. This priority is in direct, ironic conflict with the message of the State of the College address. When the Student Government Association opened the address, they mentioned that a great motivator behind the gathering was a show of transparency. The President himself remarked that he wishes—admirably so—to grow the intellectual discourse on campus. Quite frankly, neither is possible without freedom of press and speech.

Unfortunately, the Administration’s actions are part of a growing national trend. Last November, The University of California, San Diego cut all student media funding in an attempt to censor one satirical student newspaper, The Koala. The University of Tulsa similarly cracked down on the student newspaper, The Collegian, for covering the suspension of a student for allegedly criticizing a professor and the community. In each case, student newspapers faced undue press limitations for exercising their coverage and expression.

Just this fall, in the NESCAC there was a controversy at Wesleyan University. In this case, The Wesleyan Argus received intense public criticism after publishing an opinion piece critical of the Black Lives Matter movement. A student petition to defund the Argus circled as a result, sparking a “recycling” movement in which hundreds of copies of the paper were stolen. As a result of the controversy, the paper could lose more than half of its funding this upcoming fall. In this particular issue, our own Echo came out in support of the Argus in a staff editorial.

So where does this leave Colby? Undoubtedly, the suppression of press was not near the severity of UCSD, UT, or Wesleyan. As a private college, Colby can legally limit free speech, unlike public universities. Furthermore, there are undoubtedly time, place, and manner restrictions on speech and press that should be in effect. However, Colby’s move to ban the recording of a public, high profile address is unwarranted and suppressive. In response, Colby’s students and media should be standing up to condemn the action. And yet, silence.

Ultimately, the Echo has failed both itself and the student body in its inability to respond to this occurrence. The paper made no effort to make the censorship known, nor did it even proceed to substantively address the issue with the Administration. Furthermore, the Echo’s choice not to publicly respond to the censorship diminishes the newspaper’s voice. Our silence lets the administration know that this kind of behavior is acceptable.

Instead, the Echo errs on the side of the status quo, and would rather be appeased than expose hard-hitting news. After the address, the Administration offered the Echo an interview with the Chairman-Elect of the Board of Trustees. This interview led to this issue’s front-page news story, and, implicitly, the cover up of the Administration’s censorship. It is no wonder that the campus—especially the Echo office—grumbles about the paper’s lack of prestige and relevance. Gone are the glory days of muckraking and investigative journalism, because we have checked our freedom and courage at the door.

I surely hope that the incident was—on all ends—a situational reaction, and not the result of deliberate policy. However, Colby’s media bodies must condemn any and all acts of censorship and suppression when they occur. From here on out, the Administration should adopt a more open communication policy and genuinely stand by its claim of transparency. Only through an open and tolerate administration—held accountable by a vigilante and expressive student body—can free speech and press be protected. If Colby truly wishes to elevate itself as a college of distinction, both its administration and its students will commit themselves to ensuring our basic, fundamental rights.