Letter to the Editor

Image of Daymon Kiliman

Photographs courtesy of www.uis.edu.

Image of Daymon Kiliman

Dear Editor,

I am a UIS graduate school alum, former assistant editor and staff writer for The Journal and current adjunct instructor for UIS. I am writing to condemn efforts by a small group of former and current faculty, staff members, and fellow alums to intimidate The Journal’s student reporters, editorial staff and student sources. These intimidation efforts contradict UIS’s mission statement, which is to “provide a uniquely student-centered educational experience both in and out of the classroom through active learning, meaningful research and impactful civic engagement.”

In the article “GSSS: A Troubling Past and a Promising Future,” published in October 2020, reporter Mackenzi Matthews included statements made on the record by a former student who believes that the former director of Gender and Sexuality Student Services (GSSS) engaged in improper and non-collegial behavior. On social media, former and current faculty, staff and alums have encouraged the former director to pursue a libel case against The Journal for publishing this article. Additionally, this small group is exploiting their proximity to power by attempting to influence the Interim Chancellor and other members of the UIS administration to stymie The Journal’s editorial autonomy and educational function.

All educators should be disturbed by these efforts for two reasons. First, educators believe students. The former student in the article explained that student workers were made to feel uncomfortable while working under the former Director of GSSS. No intellectual reasoning wipes away that discomfort, and it is gaslighting to suggest that the students just didn’t fully appreciate the educator’s approach or intentions. The students’ discomfort must be acknowledged, respected and addressed.

Second, The Journal is a valuable learning opportunity for its student staff and the UIS community. Young reporters have growing edges, but being authentically engaged with the UIS community by working for The Journal provides an impactful learning opportunity. Student reporters must stand by their reporting and hold themselves accountable to their colleagues and the integrity of the publication, which only enhances the learning value garnered by working at The Journal.

Some former and current faculty and staff, instead of holding themselves publicly accountable, are encouraging efforts to influence the Chancellor to act against The Journal and its editorial staff. One faculty member has claimed on social media that student reporters do not respect how their reporting can impact faculty careers. This places careerism ahead of calling. Educators have no career without the students they serve. UIS’ first stated value of “student-focused teaching and learning” acknowledges this by placing teaching and learning “at the core of all University activities.” The response of the few who are encouraging that action be taken against The Journal shows they consider giving students a voice to be the real threat, not the potentially improper and un-collegial behavior of a colleague.

As an assistant editor and news reporter for The Journal from 2012 to 2013, I also experienced pressure from faculty and staff to issue corrections or stop asking certain questions. It was intimidating. Sometimes it was a learning experience. Other times I felt silenced, despite having verifiable evidence of information valuable to the UIS community. While many faculty and staff members made themselves openly available to me and made clear their commitment to The Journal’s educational value, others refused to answer even basic information-gathering questions. Whether through intimidation or just a cold shoulder, both approaches represent educators disengaging from UIS’ values of integrity, inquiry and civic engagement.

Current and former educators who wish to pressure The Journal’s editorial staff should recognize that The Journal – unlike the independent Daily Illini at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) – is part of the UIS institution itself, not ancillary to it. All faculty and staff should be disturbed by suggestions that legal or disciplinary action should be sought as recourse against departments, student organizations, academic units or service divisions just for performing their functions within the institution.

I call on the Campus Senate to draft a statement that a) expresses faculty support for The Journal, its informative and educational function for the UIS community, and its integral place in upholding UIS’s value of “foster[ing] … meaningful interactions among students, faculty, staff, and the community”; and b) clarifies faculty members’ role in fostering a thriving intellectual community through making good-faith commitments to work with The Journal’s editorial staff and student reporters in support of the publication’s educational function.

Sincerely,

Daymon Kiliman