Cal Poly’s administrative staff has repeatedly blocked Mustang News from receiving vital and basic information — even when it’s pertinent to the public safety and health of their own campus community.

The Mustang News staff works diligently to provide information and clarity on everything from COVID-19 policies and ASI elections to breaking news on emergency situations. The stories that we write, we write for you. We are the only news source centrally focused on the Cal Poly community and we act as a bridge between university leaders and the student body. 

That’s especially important right now: two years into a pandemic, amid administrators’ push for increasing campus fees and several other pressing issues, Cal Poly administrators should be prioritizing effective and meaningful communication with its campus community. 

University administrators and their chief spokesperson Matt Lazier have not prioritized that. But none of this is new. 

The editorial board of Mustang News urges Cal Poly administration to foster transparency and communication with the campus community and to repair relationships with Mustang News and the broader Cal Poly community.

At the beginning of the winter quarter we had a record-high number of students test positive for COVID-19 as Cal Poly’s on-campus isolation beds reached maximum capacity. 

COVID-19 is just one issue in which Cal Poly administrators have obscured basic details about volatile situations on this campus. Administrators and Lazier either consistently withhold information from Mustang News or refuse to answer basic questions over email.

In January, Mustang News broke the news that Cal Poly was isolating COVID-positive students in local hotels. A Mustang News reporter emailed Lazier questions and he confirmed a few details on the situation but he refused to answer most questions sent to him — including one on whether the university needed extra off-campus beds in order to isolate students who contracted the coronavirus. 

Eight hours later, the Los Angeles Times published a story on the hotels being used for COVID-19 isolation, revealing that Lazier told the Los Angeles-based publication over email, “The university engaged off-campus beds because it needed more than the 62 beds available on campus.”  

It’s unclear why Lazier refused to forward that very same comment to Mustang News and refused to respond to questions in the same vein. His behavior indicates a lack of respect and professionality, but also a disregard for the Cal Poly community. 

The following day, the Mustang News reporter emailed Lazier, questioning him on why he gave that comment to the Los Angeles Times but not Mustang News. He didn’t answer why but he wrote back with the comment he gave the Los Angeles Times. 

This is just one example of Lazier playing favorites. His actions obscure the full truth of situations. Callousness shown toward Mustang News is disregard and disrespect to the campus community. 

Lazier says all media inquiries and requests for interviews or information are required to go through him first. Lazier says if any employees receive inquiries, the university asks them to redirect reporters to him and his office. He makes himself the sole voice for many campus entities that are outside his areas of expertise. 

Yet opportunities to interview staff whose expertise and perspective benefit the topic at hand have become increasingly limited over the years. We are met with only written responses from groups like SAFER, due to a “department wide policy” to not give interviews, according to an email sent by a SAFER employee. Additionally, responses have to be pre-approved and scripted. This means Cal Poly administrators’ bias is forced into the voice of staff, minimizing expertise that most clearly speaks to issues at hand. 

These are not isolated incidents, but rather barriers we’ve seen across university departments continuously — so much so that we cannot fit all our experiences onto this page. To be fair, Mustang News does not experience the same type of resistance from organizations like Cal Poly Athletics or the Cal Poly Corporation, two parties that we have good relationships with because Lazier is not their spokesperson. 

As college journalists, we are taught to uphold truth, accountability and transparency. However, as Mustang News reporters, we are prevented from doing so due to the university’s chokehold on its staff and their communication. 

Mustang News editors have offered to meet with University Communications and other staff to address the issues at hand — as public relations professionals are supposed to do — yet the university has not been open to doing so. 

This intentional disregard of communication doesn’t just hinder our reporting, this hinders your understanding of issues that directly affect our entire campus community and fosters ignorance among the Cal Poly community created by the university.

As the university’s gatekeeping of information inhibits our campus community greatly, something needs to be done to change this. Communication between Mustang News and the university, specifically with Matt Lazier, has not led to any change whatsoever. We can no longer sit back and allow the university to ignore us: both as Mustang News but also the broader Cal Poly community. 

Mustang News and its staff are doing their part in continuing to push university administrators and their chief spokesperson to be more transparent. We ask that the university no longer silences its staff and faculty, ending the practice of exclusively providing administrative information through a single person. We urge the campus community to join us in calling on university officials to hold the administration accountable to ensure that’s done.

We aren’t pleading, we are demanding. You can no longer keep the Cal Poly community in the dark.

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