Guest Opinions | January 31, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - January 31, 2014

Guest Opinions

Everything not roses at Stanford, Paly editors point out

Daily has difficulty getting comment on negative news

by Billy Gallagher

Editor's Note: The following column ( is reprinted with permission from Stanford. Gallagher was co-editor of the Daily when he wrote it last year.

In the fall of 2012, President Hennessy quoted Steve Jobs' famous 2005 commencement address in his convocation to the Class of 2016.

"Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."

Hennessy went on to tell the new class that their undergraduate education would serve as a foundation for their lives and that Stanford expected them each to become "an enthusiastic member of this academic community."

But how often are we encouraged to decide what we want the Stanford community to become? And if our inner voice is critical of the current community, will Stanford still listen?

Students are encouraged by their professors to critically examine the world and work to maximize their potential and positively impact their community.

But outside of the classroom, the situation changes drastically. Now, little Stanford student, you aren't supposed to say a single negative word about your Stanford experience.

This is Stanford. We are all geniuses who bathe in the sun, rip shots while coding, smoke while analyzing Chaucer, roll out of bed late and crush the McKinsey interview and get a nice night's sleep before doing it again. And we're all happy.

There aren't problems with mental health stigmas on campus, brought sharply into focus by student suicides last spring. Students shouldn't be concerned about the autonomy and direction of student housing, particularly in row houses and suites. Students shouldn't be concerned about the current state of sexual assault on campus, nor the few protections the Alternative Review Process affords the accused.

Critically analyze your reading, not the quality of your Stanford experience.

Indeed, there are, have been and always will be problems.

Students are attempting suicide. Students are sexually assaulting other students. Do you know how many? Do you know if the numbers are going up or down? Do you know what's being done to address either issue?

No. We've failed you as journalists. Your university has failed you. We've failed each other as community members.

The culture of silence at Stanford has gotten out of hand, and no one has noticed. Stanford has become so obsessed with a perfectly manicured image that it sweeps very real issues under the rug.

I guess "have open, honest discussions about depression across campus" doesn't look as good as a palm tree on an admissions brochure.

Of course we need to respect privacy. But that's why the University can provide statistics that protect people's identity and that's why journalists hold anonymity so sacred.

At the Daily, we worked to overcome this silence by banning email interviews this fall, which the University has abused to replace quotes with press release sound bites. The pushback from many, all purportedly tasked with serving the students and the community, was frankly unbelievable.

Some administrators have been great. The student body is very lucky to have a Vice Provost of Student Affairs, Greg Boardman, who strongly supports the autonomy of the student press.

Others have been offensively useless. Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE) exists to serve students and the Stanford community — unless that involves talking to the most-read student publication, of course. We've had interview request after request declined, only to be told that we'll receive an emailed statement that is often barely relevant and praises R&DE no matter what the situation.

I can't even count how many meetings I've had with Stanford administrators to discuss why they're too busy to meet with our reporters.

I'm sick of administrators lying to my face. I'm sick of being told we can't have any numbers or information on suicide attempts, but being given a press release, complete with quotes from President Hennessy, telling us how "transformative" it is that the School of Education has added the word "Graduate" to its title. I'm sick of being told that the administration has students' best interest in mind when no apparent attempts are made to engage with students in meaningful dialogue before decisions are made.

I love this school, and yes, we do live in a physical paradise. But by admitting that it isn't perfect, by openly admitting that we have serious, serious issues to deal with, we can start to work towards solutions.

Luckily, I have another year and a half here to help — help with the next generation of Daily staff so they will fight for what's right and fight to get information out there.

But we need to help ourselves. The responsibility lies with all of us in the community to be actively engaged, care about the issues and challenge both media coverage and the university.

We at the Daily have long served as a watchdog for the university, with our readers serving as our watchdogs. Now more than ever, with the Stanford PR machine working overtime to make sure every single possible story is bubbly and positive, we need to stay focused and be heard.

Follow your heart and intuition. Keep fighting. And most of all, don't let the administration drown out your voice. This is your school.

Billy Gallagher is one of two ASSU (student body) presidents at Stanford. He wrote this piece while he was president and editor in chief of the Stanford Daily last year.


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Posted by professor
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 31, 2014 at 8:37 am

Faculty and admins don't want to talk to the Daily, Billy, because they lack confidence in your journalistic ethics. You misquote people, take their quotes out of context, and have often not played a constructive role but one that more closely resembles a two-year old in tantrum mode. It has nothing to do with sweeping problems under the rug. Faculty and staff are more than happy at SU to talk about problems. It has to do with being misquoted, misrepresented, and misled. People only want to talk to you in writing because that's the only way they can be sure you will quote them accurately.

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 31, 2014 at 11:49 am

Last I checked, a person's medical records are private - which includes unsuccessful suicide attempts. Not your business.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.