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College backtracks on policy restricting employees from talking to reporters

Skyline College in San Bruno is backing off a policy that required employees to go through the public relations department before answering media questions, the San Mateo Daily Journal reported Wednesday.

The student newspaper, The Skyline View, complained in an editorial that the policy restricted all faculty and staff from speaking to reporters for any reason.

“This stops the flow of information at the very place we need to access it, our teachers and our mentors,” the editorial stated. “Without being able to ask questions we are losing the edge that makes us journalists. In this new system we would have to e-mail our questions to the Office of Marketing, Communications and Public Relations.”

The Daily Journal reported Tuesday that the head of the teachers union, Teeka James, objected to the policy, too.

“It’s a perfect example of prior restraint on employee speech,” she said. “An employee has the right to say their experience in the college. … It still has the effect of chilling conversation and making employees feel like they’ll be in trouble if they speak to the press. It’s unclear if it’s just a recommendation, but that’s the way people are perceiving it.”

A memo sent to employees last week said, “Please do not agree to conduct an interview with a member of the media. If you are asked to be interviewed, please gather information on what the nature of the interview is, get the questions the reporter plans to ask in writing and consult (Marketing Director) Cherie Colin.”

The memo advised employees not to “talk off the record with a reporter. Nothing is off-record when speaking to the media.”

Colin told the Daily Journal that the policy was designed to protect the brand of Skyline College, which is part of the tax-funded San Mateo County Community College District.

The college said last week’s memo simply restated a policy that had been in effect since 2006, though union head James said the policy was news to everyone she knew.
After the Journal’s story on Tuesday, college administrators sent out an email apologizing. They said they would reevaluate the policy.

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