Queen's needs a lesson on transparency

Queen’s has a transparency problem.

I was in first year when BISC Executive Director Bruce Stanley was fired, opening the floodgates to two years of dismissals and resignations on Queen’s’ satellite campus. Before I even knew what The Journal was, I wondered why we — the students impacted by Stanley’s mid-year departure — were left in the dark. 

In my third year, freshly-hired on The Journal’s news team, I sent a formal request to Queen’s administration to ask why so many professors disappeared. That day, I learnt something alarming, though not on the subject of my request. 

“It would not be appropriate for the university to comment,” wrote back Alan Harrison, then-Provost. As for the individual professors, we learned that they were legally prohibited from speaking about it. 

Queen’s isn't honest with its students — its interactions with its newspaper is telling of that indifference.

It would be easy to label this unfulfilled request for information as a mere inconvenience — a disgruntled student journalist who had to work around it. But the sentiment has been repeated over and over again. 

“At this time, we are unable to provide a comment” has become a mass-produced response to The Journal. A quick search of my inbox found innumerable versions of the same sentence, sent by communications officers relaying the message. 

While the issue can seem niche to the handful of student writers at The Journal, it’s an indication of a larger trend — one that’s hurting Queen’s students and faculty at large. It’s one of condoned secrecy, in the face of both student and faculty anxieties. 

Another particularly poignant example comes in the story of recently-fired Engineering Professor Morteza Shirkhanzadeh — the subject of a complex case on research misconduct, academic freedom, and institutional non-compliance. 

The case goes beyond the intricacies of human resources, which admittedly may be confidential for good reason. It deals with the very core of academia, academic honesty and whether or not this school is a place where we could come forward with information. 

During the many months in which The Journal covered the story, administration repeatedly denied communications requests. Often, no explanation was given as to why the requests were even denied — just the same no-comment reply in our emails. 

If a group that actively seeks answers can’t find them, what’s the hope for Shirkhanzadeh’s students or Queen’s academics concerned with integrity? 

This tight-lipped approach to issues that matter to students undermines the significance of student journalism in ensuring the voices of students are heard, but it goes so far beyond that. 

The average student is limited in their capacity to discuss these problems with higher administration, and The Journal provides a space for transparency that’s being abused by silence. 

That isn’t to say that every administrator is secretive. In my role, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with many administrators who actively seek out honesty with students. 

However, more often than not, this isn’t the case. In particular, it would be beneficial for Principal Daniel Woolf to rise to this example.

There are two sides to every story. For every comment denied, Queen’s is only hurting their own voice. And I know the University can be better than this. Prove me right. 

Victoria is The Journal’s News Editor. She’s a fourth-year drama and English student. 

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