Breaking: Student journalists barred from official meeting with city and University officials



Behind this door, Burlington and UVM officials met to discuss proposal for an intersection a student research group deemed unsafe. Student Journalists were barred from that meeting.

Two student journalists were barred from attending a meeting between Burlington public works officials, UVM officials and Student Government representatives, Wednesday, Oct. 16.

The Cynic along with a student journalist in the developing Community News Service were told by UVM and DPW officials that they were not allowed in the meeting. The meeting was held to give an update over what the city plans to do to address concerns with the U-Heights and Main Street intersection that students in the spring called unsafe.

Prior to the meeting, Joe Speidel, director of local government and community relations for the University of Vermont told the Cynic in a phone call members in the meeting would prefer the Cynic not attend. When the Cynic attempted to enter the meeting they were barred by Speidel.

When asked whose decision it was to exclude journalists from the meeting, Speidel did not answer.

“Does it really matter?” he said.

Those in attendance at the meeting were Chapin Spencer, the Director of Public Works, a number of UVM officials including Speidel and SGA Senator Aiden May, a sophomore.

SGA President Jillian Scannell, a senior, said in a statement to the Cynic the removal of student journalists was upsetting.

“I, unfortunately, couldn’t make today’s meeting but was upset to hear that student reporters were removed,” the message stated, “Intersection safety at U-Heights is an issue that has been pushed forward by students and ultimately is a student safety issue. I hope in the future students who take an interest in an issue will be included.”

Richard Watts, the professor for Vermont Studies Media and Politics, where the original student data and demand for change came from, also sat in on the meeting. Watts stated in an Oct. 16 email he was disappointed that student journalists were not welcome.

Watts’ full statement:

“I am disappointed that the media was not allowed to attend a presentation about U-Heights from public officials who work for the City. I am disappointed that representatives of UVM barred the student paper from attending. I do think ground rules could have been established that would have allowed the media to be present. In general, it is always better to side with more transparency rather than less. This is one of, if not the busiest pedestrian/car intersection in Vermont with tens of thousands of cars and pedestrians crossing each day. What we do about it is of overwhelming public interest. And too many times these decisions are made behind closed doors.”

The Burlington Department of Public Works responded on Twitter Oct. 16 and stated the meeting was just an intial meeting with the project team but did not respond to journalists being barred from the meeting.

“We will be engaging all those interested as the project gets underway,” the tweet stated. “Today’s meeting was an initial meeting with the project team. Your voices are critical to the process. Thanks for your interest, and we will be scheduling something soon.”

Updated Oct. 16 at 5:03 p.m.