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The Pendulum responds to community feedback

by The Pendulum,
  • The Dec. 7 front page of The Pendulum.

"We are a community that must listen to one another, even when that dialogue is one that's not necessarily easy."

In the past 24 hours, The Pendulum has received a mountain of feedback concerning this week's front-page editorial. Thank you all for your comments, support and criticisms. We hope you'll continue to comment and write to us.

We're a student news organization that relies on your input to improve, and we would like to take this opportunity to address some of the concerns that have been brought to our attention. Is threatening students with possible Honor Code sanctions after speaking to The Pendulum an act of censorship? Does Elon University have a legal obligation to respond to a student who claims to drink underage and claims to have a fake ID? Should The Pendulum have kept this student anonymous?

Some have called into question whether Student Conduct investigating a student after openly speaking to The Pendulum about an illegal action is an act of censorship. As people have correctly pointed out, the administration did not censor The Pendulum before it went to press nor has it asked for a correction or reprint, a point that should've been made clearer in the editorial. And we do apologize for that error in judgment.

Still, The Pendulum believes threatening to charge students after speaking to a news organization will lead to a chilling effect across campus and will discourage students, faculty, staff and community members from speaking honestly and candidly on important and sensitive topics. We understand the student admitted to an illegal action, which we do not condone. We also understand Elon has the right to investigate a student who openly admits to a violation of the Honor Code. Yet, it's our belief that the university should not charge students with Honor Code violations solely for comments made through media outlets.

According to the Elon Police Department, a student would not be criminally charged based on what he or she said in a public forum. The student, they said, would need to be caught in the act. As a private university, Elon does not have an obligation to follow this standard. That does not mean, though, Elon should threaten students with sanctions after they have taken part in an open dialogue on a serious campus problem. Only if students are caught during an illegal act should they then face Honor Code violations.

The Pendulum reported on conflicting stances regarding open dialogue within Elon University. Throughout the semester the administration has fostered discussions, forums, the creation of a Speakers' Corner and made free speech, honest dialogue and the First Amendment rights of students a matter of high importance. And we applaud the university in these endeavors.

Other readers have raised concern about the anonymity of the student in question. The student was given a choice of whether to remain anonymous, and she chose to use her name. Some have suggested The Pendulum should have extended her anonymity regardless. We encourage all students to use their names not only to add credibility to their opinion but to facilitate honest conversations. But in the future, The Pendulum will inform all sources being interviewed regarding an Honor Code violation that they may face of the possibility of being sanctioned. There was no precedent set by Student Conduct on charging a student for speaking to student media, and as a staff we did not feel we were putting anyone in harm's way. Perhaps this was also an error in our judgment. From now on we will go to greater lengths to protect our sources.

The administration has said it encourages students to speak anonymously, and it would not force The Pendulum to reveal the names of its sources unless a student's life was in danger. This made us question the motive behind the administration's actions.

As Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate at the Student Press Law Center said, "I think that the only way to really solve the problem big picture is for the university to realize what a lousy, lousy policy it is to go after people for these things. It's like a no-fly list, right? We only catch terrorists who go under their real name. If you're smart enough to lie about your name, then you're not going to get caught. There's an element of that here. Does the university want to stop underage drinking, or do they want to stop people from admitting it?"

Thank you all, again, for your comments and feedback on this issue. It has made us critically evaluate how we covered the story and displayed the editorial in the Dec. 7 edition. We are, indeed, sorry that our lack of clarification and, at times, overzealous tone have, for many, negated the important topics we wished to convey.

Please continue to send us your comments, as your feedback is vital to our continuing mission to serve the student body and community of Elon.