Promises of transparency not fulfilled by university administration

Recent Spectator requests for comment left ignored

Students+marched+into+Schofield+Hall+toward+Chancellor+James+C.+Schmidt%E2%80%99s+office+on+Nov.+26%2C+2019+to+demand+%E2%80%9Cinstitutional+transparency%E2%80%9D+after+a+thread+of+racist+Snapchat+messages+surfaced.+Ten+months+later%2C+however%2C+university+administration+has+refused+The+Spectator%E2%80%99s+requests+for+comment%2C+regarding+the+most+recent+decision+to+reinstate+the+five+members+of+the+Blugold+football+team+involved+in+the+incident.

Photo by Alee Erickson

Students marched into Schofield Hall toward Chancellor James C. Schmidt’s office on Nov. 26, 2019 to demand “institutional transparency” after a thread of racist Snapchat messages surfaced. Ten months later, however, university administration has refused The Spectator’s requests for comment, regarding the most recent decision to reinstate the five members of the Blugold football team involved in the incident.

When a thread of racist Snapchat messages involving five members of the Blugold football team surfaced on Nov. 20, 2019, fellow Spectator reporter Lea Kopke and I covered a silent walkout which occurred six days later in response to the incident.

Hundreds of people had gathered from the UW-Eau Claire community for the protest — which was organized by members of Black Male Empowerment — to present a list of BME demands to Chancellor James C. Schmidt, asking for “institutional transparency” among other requests.

Protestors marched into Schofield Hall to read the demands outside of Schmidt’s office and afterward, Schmidt followed them back outside to address the crowd. 

“You give me hope as a campus (that) we can make good on our diversity statements that we’ve had for decades,” Schmidt said. “You should expect transparency from us. You should expect action from us.”

However, ten months later, there is little to no transparency from the university administration.

On Sept. 22, fellow Spectator reporters Madeline Fuerstenberg, Kopke and I broke the news that a “strong majority” of UW-Eau Claire football players opposed the university-ordered decision to reinstate the five players involved in the incident.

Ten months later, and this was the first time we, as a campus community, had heard of this decision.

A read-through of our breaking news story also confirms a myriad of individuals did not speak with us throughout the reporting process. 

Schmidt refused to meet with us last week but agreed to provide a statement that was emailed to the UW-Eau Claire community and local media only after we had announced to the Chancellor’s Office our plans to publish our investigation. 

According to players on the Blugold football team, Schmidt refused requests to meet with team members about the decision to reinstate the five players as well.

Vice Chancellor Warren Anderson did not respond to The Spectator’s phone and email requests for comment either. 

When we are told to “expect transparency” from university administration, unanswered phone calls and emails do not adhere to that expectation. 

It is our role and our responsibility as student journalists at The Spectator to hold this administration accountable — to analyze and explain what promises were made and what actions were and were not fulfilled. 

We have reported on reactions to this decision to reinstate the five suspended football players and informed the campus community and beyond, but we need the administration to uphold their end of the bargain.

We still have unanswered questions regarding which students, faculty and staff were on the panel that “found the five students in question not responsible for any violations listed in Wisconsin Administrative Code UWS 17,” the policy that outlines student non academic disciplinary procedures.  

We still have unanswered questions regarding when this panel released its findings and ultimately why the university could not make this decision on its own. 

The Spectator will continuously strive to answer these questions because the UW-Eau Claire community deserves answers — they deserve information, explanation and honesty so we can understand and process what is happening. 

Transparency does not occur behind closed doors; the UW-Eau Claire administration needs to open theirs.

Van Sistine can be reached at [email protected].