Thursday, April 12, 2012

Conduct cracks down on Mast source

Editorial board speaks out in favor of student

by The Mooring Mast Editorial Board

A journalist’s most sacred relationship is with his source. Without a source there is no information. Without information there is no news. A journalist would go to great lengths to procure a source and even greater lengths to cultivate a relationship.

And, if forced, a journalist will do anything to protect their source.

In the past two weeks, one of our sources has come under fire from Student Conduct.

Their crime: living a life of thoughtful inquiry.

In the March 23 issue of The Mooring Mast the Focus Section ran an article about theft in the University Center.

As we learned, theft has become an increasingly prevalent issue for Dining and Culinary Services and students ‘swiping without swiping,’ as the headline read, have affected the university’s budget.

As we set about to garner information, statistics and quotes, it soon became evident there was a debate regarding the definitions of ‘theft’ at Pacific Lutheran University.

Erin McGinnis, director of Dining and CulinaryServices, told the Mast the umbrella of theft covered both students stealing food from Old Main Market as well as leaving the UC all-you-care-to-eat dinner swipes with Tupperware and Ziplocs of food to take back to their residence halls.

Everyone agreed on the market definition of theft.

Theft is theft.

But an open debate ensued regarding the classification of theft from all-you-care-to-eat dinners.

Many students, and even Dining and Culinary Services employees, said they had a hard time with the broad definitions of theft in regards to dinner swipes.

Charged with the responsibilities of student journalists at a university that supposedly promotes “lives of thoughtful inquiry,” as defined by our mission statement, we set about to collect an array of opinions.

One of the students whom we interviewed told us once in her three years here she left the UC with a small food item from a UC dinner.

Her defense was simple: a dinner swipe, though paid for through a meal plan, is priced at $10.75 per dinner.

Rarely do students eat almost $11 worth of food in one sitting, our source argued, so if a student takes a small item from the UC to eat at a different location, the item has already been paid for.

We weren’t talking about meals. Our multiple sources were talking about fruit, crackers and cereal.

As far as we were concerned, everyone acted inaccordance with the mission statement. We did our jobs of fostering inquiry,and our sources did their job by opening a door to continued dialogue.

But the university disagreed.

One student source was soon notified StudentConduct was pursuing charges of theft, arguing the student admitted to thecrime in the newspaper.

The definition of admittance was a loose term --itwas a paraphrased quote.

The reporter took a quote and phrased it in her ownwords, removing the quotation marks -- a common practice in our field.

But that’s not the issue at hand.

Here at the paper we firmly support our stance thatthe student conduct charge leveled against one of our students was a violation of free speech and, most importantly, the PLU mission statement.

Not only would a paraphrased newspaper quote not hold water as a prosecution for a two-year-old petty crime in the real world, the use of a newspaper for prosecution violates our role here at theuniversity.

As journalists say, we are not police officers, nor can we be used as such.

The charges against our source are an attempt to encourage sources to use anonymity in the newspaper. In this instance, our source was offered anonymity, though the source declined, trusting the university and hoping they would offer education for all parties involved.

The lesson aimed at us is a dangerous and chilling one.

In journalism, we avoid anonymous sources, instead encouraging our sources to use their real names during interviews. It ensures credibility and veracity, and provides the story with a human element.

Though anonymous sources are simply a less-preferred option on our end, anonymity can prove to be detrimental for the subject of investigation — in this case, PLU.

When a source is given secrecy, much more causticand, frequently, much less accurate information is leveled against the university.

This attempted lesson is destructive.

The Mast defends our readers and our sources.

We’ve done all we can in this instance, making our opinion public with our superiors.

If Student Conduct labels our source guilty, we have promised to pay any fine the student may incur.

But we can only do so much. You, our readers, ultimately have the power to vocally support our mission of though tful inquiry, open discussion and a rich exchange of ideas.