A UTVS reporter was accosted by a faculty member for recording a conversation during a gathering of students in Atwood this past month.
Students, upset over a display put up by the St. Cloud State University’s (SCSU) College Republicans gathered in front of the display case while members of the SCSU College Republicans defended the display.
While students were discussing this issue, Professor Tracy Ore, who teaches Sociology at SCSU, confronted UTVS News Director and University Chronicle Managing Editor, Kyle Fahrmann, who was acting as a UTVS cameraman, about recording during the ordeal and demanded he not only stop recording but also delete any footage he had taken.
Fahrmann said he saw Ore “lecturing” a student and that he wanted to get an “action shot” of the conversation.
Fahrmann said Ore appeared to be talking to the student sternly “borderline yelling, you could clearly tell she was very upset.”
The student Ore was speaking to was the then VP of the College Republicans (VP). He asked that his name not be used in this article.
The VP said that Ore, himself and former President of the College Republicans, Mathias Eike had been talking earlier.
He said the conversation became very heated, and that Eike left and that Ore and himself stepped off to talk about things after Eike departed.
The VP also said “I could easily tell [Ore] was emotionally charged about it all. And she was really mad and telling me, even when I was being calm with her, ‘to get educated’ on the issue.”
He said Ore was “a little riled up” from the way Eike was speaking to her and was talking to the VP with a raised tone in a “mean lecturing voice” and also talking down to him.
It was during that conversation that Fahrmann decided to start filming.
When contacted via email Ore was open to comment on the incident but stated she did not know why the University Chronicle would be interested in a “private matter.”
Ore offered to talk either on the phone or in-person. It was then agreed upon to talk in-person.
When the interview began she empathically stated that she did not want to comment on the record, that she did not want a news story written about this, that this is not a news story and that she did not consent to being recorded.
Ore continued to speak about the incident insisting that she did not agree to speak on the record.
When Ore was informed that off the record is an agreement between a reporter and interviewee beforehand, Ore said she was 55-years-old and that she knows what off the record means.
Ore eventually agreed to speak while being recorded after she was informed that the story was going to be written with or without her and that she would have to be paraphrased, but the interview was not going to continue without it being recorded.
Ore said that saying a story will be written with or without her participation could be construed as a threat.
Ore then said she did not feel personally threatened and later said via email that she made the comment as a teacher and viewed her comment as a teaching moment for student journalists.
“I viewed it as a teaching moment. As a journalist, I think you need to be thoughtful about the way your comments could be perceived,” said Ore.
Ore does not possess any mass communication degrees or degrees that are related to journalism according to her SCSU directory website page.
A link on her website does list a panel put on for The Society for Professional Journalists in March 2000 at SCSU called, “Gut Check: The Community Talks to Itself About Media Coverage of Diversity.”
When Ore was informed about why it’s important to record interviews, that things get paraphrased or you might grab a quote without context, Ore said, “I’m aware, and I need you to stop talking to me like I don’t know these things.”
Ore repeatedly said she was having a private conversation with a student, that she was not at a public event and she did not consent to being recorded that day.
The student she was talking to, the VP of the College Republicans, said that he had no expectation of privacy.
“I was getting videotaped the whole time I was there,” he said.
The VP later added, “As much as I didn’t really like having cameras pushed down my face over this while I was getting yelled at by 30 people, I still believe in freedom of the press. You have to allow that.”
Fahrmann said Ore and the student were standing approximately 20 feet away from the main body that was discussing the wall, but that they were still firmly in an open area on the 2nd floor of Atwood.
Ore refused to comment when asked multiple times how far away from the group she and the student were standing, beyond saying she and the student were “off to the east” of the gathered students.
The VP said Ore and himself were standing approximately 15-20 feet away from the main group.
Ore said it didn’t matter how physically far away she and the student were and then equated going to the bathroom at a hockey game as the same thing as speaking to someone in a public area on a college campus.
Ore confronted Fahrmann after he started to film and told him she did not consent to being filmed and that he had to delete the footage.
Ore’s version of events are that Fahrmann voluntarily stopped recording and deleted the footage.
“I asked that reporter to not record me and he eventually agreed to not record and he eventually agreed to delete what he had recorded because it was a private conversation between myself and a student on this campus.”
Ore said she is frustrated because the reporter didn’t just talk to her instead of making this a news story.
Fahrmann contends that he only deleted the footage because he felt scared.
“She was like, yelling at me and she was being very blunt. It wasn’t a polite ‘I don’t appreciate this, could you please turn off [the camera].”
The student Ore was talking to confirmed Ore was yelling at Fahrmann to stop recording and to delete the footage.
The student also said Ore was yelling so loud that everyone at the display case, that was approximately 15-20 feet away, initially became quiet.
Fahrmann said she came off as threatening and that while Ore did not make any specific threats, “I felt like if I didn’t do it then something was going to happen.”
When Ore was informed that Fahrmann deleted the footage because he was scared she said “that might be the case. I have no idea. I don’t know what his feelings were. I personally felt scared as a faculty member having a private conversation with a student. I have a responsibility as a faculty member to keep that conversation private.”
“I did not trust that that reporter would just of his own choice delete that recording,” she added.
Ore later added that if the Fahrmann wants to continue to work in the media he should get used to feeling threatened.
Overall, Ore contends that demanding Fahrmann to not record in a public area and to delete footage was a teaching moment for Fahrmann.
“I did have an expectation [of privacy] when it was clear that that reporter didn’t understand it that’s why I spoke with the reporter,” said Ore.
The student Ore was speaking to said he had no expectation of privacy. “I was not worried about the camera,” he said.
“I gave [Fahrmann] an opportunity to learn there,” said Ore. “I know it was a private conversation. He and I were having a private conversation. I’m quite aware. It was at a tone that was private. It was not a shouting. It was a conversation,” added Ore later.
“It was a private conversation just between me and her but it wasn’t private in the sense of where we were at,” said the student that was speaking to Ore.
Though Ore demanded a student journalist to stop recording in a public area and delete footage, she claims that she supports student journalists on campus.
“I’ve been a supporter of both UTVS and KVSC on this campus for years. Of course it’s important for them to record events,” said Ore.
In regard to her being recorded for this interview, Ore said “I don’t feel that this is a news story. This is what I’m concerned about, right now in the press, now I don’t mean here on campus, but in the press there’s a lot of debate about free speech and there’s a lot of assertions, I don’t think any of them are true, that faculty like me are shutting down free speech, are silencing dissent. If you don’t believe me you just go out and look there.”
“I’ve got colleagues at other institutions who might show up at a protest and defend students here, something is filmed from them out of context, it winds up here and they wind up out of a job,” added Ore.
“Whether you have a reasonable expectation of privacy depends on the nature of the space. If you choose to have what you consider a ‘private’ conversation in the middle of a busy hallway, you forfeit any reasonable expectation of privacy,” Frank LoMonte, Senior Legal Fellow at the Student Press Law Center, said via email.
“We don’t get to declare pieces of public property off-limits to newsgathering activity by declaring it to be our private meeting space. If the conversation was truly confidential, it was a misjudgment to have it in a place where it could be easily overheard,” LoMonte said.
Judith Siminoe, special adviser to the President of SCSU, declined to comment about the incident, citing The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) – regarding student privacy and Minn Stat. 13.43 – in regard to state employee privacy.
Siminoe said SCSU considers anything that can identify a student, falls under FERPA protections.
However, LoMonte disagrees with Siminoe’s interpretation of FERPA.
“FERPA has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court to include only a very narrow subset of centrally maintained records about a student. It never, ever, under any circumstances includes information gathered by the news media in a public space. FERPA is about the sanctity of the physical records kept in the college’s central recordkeeping (sic) facility and that’s all it is about,” LoMonte said.
He added, “If a professor is having a conversation with a student in a hallway, nothing about that conversation is made confidential under FERPA unless the professor is literally standing there reading the student’s transcript aloud, because FERPA is about the sanctity of the transcript and not ideas coming out of a professor’s mouth. In any event, a journalist making the recording of the conversation is not the FERPA violation — the FERPA violation would be the professor having a confidential conversation in front of witnesses. But nothing about a hallway conversation between a professor and a student at the scene of a disturbance is made confidential by FERPA at all, so FERPA does not have any place in the discussion.”
Siminoe also said there is no specific SCSU policy regarding student journalist’s rights on campus and would not comment when asked if SCSU is currently investigating the incident.
The student Ore was speaking to said that himself and Ore have communicated through email a desire to talk about the issues they had been speaking about and that Ore is open to that conversation.