May 2021 Advocate: Faculty’s right to speak to the press

Defending faculty’s rights

Skyline President revises message on media policy after AFT points out
faculty’s right to speak to press without the approval of PIO

Skyline College President, Melissa Moreno, sent a message to the Skyline community on May 3 that corrected a previous message she had sent out on the subject of role of the Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations (MCPR) Department regarding faculty’s right to speak to the press. The earlier message, sent in March, repeated an inaccurate message sent out by the MCPR in 2014 which attempted to “protect” the college’s “brand and image” by restricting faculty comments to reporters and the media.

After that 2014 MCPR message, AFT asked its attorney, Robert Bezemek, to clarify faculty’s constitutional and statutory rights to respond directly to the media. Bezemek wrote an Advocate article on the subject at that time that explained that the MCPR 2014 message “coerces compliance, and discourages or ‘chills” faculty free speech rights. Following President Moreno’s March message on the media policy, AFT Skyline Chapter Co-Chair, Rika Yonemura, met with Dr. Moreno and shared the history and critique of Skyline’s overreaching policy.  AFT appreciates that Dr. Moreno promptly wrote her revised message acknowledging that her March message had “overstepped” and she cited the 2014 Bezemek article, recommending to faculty and staff that it is “worth a read.”

While pointing out the exceptional rare occasions, “as when someone has been engaged to speak on behalf of the college to express the college’s ‘official’ position,” Bezemek’s article concludes with the following statement:

Faculty, students and even Board members cannot be required nor can they be expected by their employer to obtain permission or approval of their words when they decide to talk to the media about their college. The Constitution demands this recognition by public colleges.