Our view: President opens up for students – but not all the way

DKS Editors

Every week, we’re sent dozens of emails with campus events that could need coverage. Tucked away at the end of one such thread — Center for Student Involvement’s “News for the Week” — was a gem: “You’re invited to lunch with President Lefton.”

For a president who doesn’t have the best track record with student engagement, this seemed like a chance to provide some coverage into his relationship with “approximately 8-10 students” selected from a pool of applicants.

In fine print on a flier, however, is a promise to students that no cameras, press or other university officials will be there.

In refusing our request to sit in on the lunch, Lefton cited the students’ possible shyness around reporters. He wants to have an unfiltered conversation with them, and they won’t open up if we’re there. Plus, the president doesn’t see the lunches as publicity for him.

OK, fair. But although a refusal to cover a private event seems minor, the president has compounded a recurring problem that continues to strain relations with student media, even in the final months of his administration.

We’re refused access to a large part of the president’s day. And, for a large part, that’s OK. We don’t need to be in the backroom meetings with his cabinet, his private discussions with trustees or planning meetings with city officials. (Though that would be AWESOME.)

But “Lunches with Lefton”? The president has denied us an opportunity to show him in his prime to the campus community.

The Stater made a request last semester to follow the president on one of his numerous (and profitable) alumni trips. It would have shown firsthand why he is physically absent from campus so much and why that is important to students who benefit from that money he fundraises. It would also show just how much that travel can wear a person down, that he isn’t blowing university money on a five-star Hyatt in South Beach.

But it was denied; and, again, that’s OK.

But the perception that Lefton is not engaging enough with students cannot be refuted unless media can get a little access. Many on campus had no idea “Lunches with Lefton” existed, and many of them don’t understand what he actually does for them.

While we’re hoping our story today expands the pool of candidates who would like to meet with the president, we can’t help but feel like it doesn’t do much to show the president really cares.