November 28, 2020

Letter from the editor: The impact of an opinion

The letters to the editor on this page obviously have one commonality — reaction to Webster University student Josh Ritchey’s guest commentary on the administration’s financial responsibilities.

After publication of the guest commentary, I observed a campus was abuzz about the concerns expressed in the piece. I saw it shared multiple times on students’ Facebook profiles. As of Tuesday, April 9, Ritchey’s guest commentary, “Webster administration’s arbitrary financial decisions need greater accountability,” has received 314 Facebook “likes” on The Journal’s website. This is not to say 314 people agree with Ritchey, but it seems to me that 314 people feel his points are worthy of discussion.

Some of the points Ritchey made in his commentary have been called inaccurate. Chief Communications Officer Barbara O’Malley states in her letter to the editor that these inaccuracies are “too numerous to answer here.” I am disappointed O’Malley did not address specific inaccuracies in the letter. I reached out to the public relations office via email last Thursday and invited a representative to specifically address the inaccuracies. My email was not returned as of press time. I do recognize Ritchey’s piece contained inaccuracies.

Katie Maxwell, junior and current student organization liaison for the Student Government Association, has suggested Journal opinion pieces “go through a more rigorous fact checking process” in order to prevent misinformation from being published.

For this point, I would agree with Maxwell.

There are inaccuracies in Ritchey’s commentary that have been found. I will address what I discovered:

— The most significant of the inaccuracies, in my opinion, pertains to President Elizabeth Stroble’s attendance at the Pi Kappa Delta Forensics and Debate Tournament, which the university hosted. Stroble did attend the speech and debate tournament, contrary to Ritchey’s assertion that she had not.

— The chess tournament, which Webster University won, was not NCAA regulated.

— Webster has one president and one chancellor emeritus, but not three provosts (which hold the same responsibilities as Julian Schuster, provost and senior vice president). Schuster is the only administrator to hold the “provost” title that Ritchey’s commentary alluded to. Two other administrators have the word “provost” in their titles: Paul Carney as the Assistant Provost for Student Affairs and Athletics Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, and Nancy Hellerud as associate provost.

As editor of this paper, I cringe at corrections. With the attention this guest commentary received, I cringed a little longer than usual. In this situation, I didn’t meet the basic expectation of an editor to catch inaccuracies before going to print.

Given that, I still believe Ritchey’s commentary deserved space in this newspaper. Please note I am not saying I or any Journal editor or staff member completely agree or disagree with Ritchey’s comments. We all share varying opinions.

What I am saying is Ritchey’s observations are startling to me. In his commentary, Ritchey states he has observed an environment of fear — students fearful of the lack or loss of their financial aid and scholarships, his fear of not attending graduate school at Webster “due to lack of funding,” and fears of job loss among staff members.

Please take note that none of these points from Ritchey’s commentary directly address Webster’s chess team.

These points are the reason I was dismayed to read the line in Maxwell’s letter to the editor that states the judgment of Stroble and Schuster’s support of the chess team is “off topic and out of line.” She adds, “Each student has personal experiences they can tie into Ritchey’s piece, but we need to think of the big picture and work together.”

I am disappointed that someone who is campaigning for SGA — someone who promises increased student advocacy — does not address the concerns of Ritchey, a student, in her letter to the editor.

Ritchey could have taken other ways to state his concerns, but writing a guest commentary is certainly reasonable. I believe the opinions page is a way for members of this community to express thoughts, feelings and concerns. And, as evidence of this opinions page, is an avenue for public discussion.

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