As an adjunct journalism professor at Columbia University, Walt Bogdanich is loved and revered by his journalism students who think he walks on water.
The two-time Pulitzer winner kind of does—at least journalistically.
And when he goes to journalism conferences, it’s not just his students, but professionals who listen.
After his latest major story, higher ed officials should be reading and following Bogdanich’s work in The New York Times and using it as a cautionary tale.
I blogged about his story on how law enforcement and university officials at Florida State badly bungled the Jameis Winston sexual assault case.
Indeed, “bungled” may be too good a term, as it implies some kind of action when there was “virtually no investigation” done by either law enforcement or Florida State, as Bogdanich reported.
When I caught up with Bogdanich, at a journalism convention in San Francisco, I asked him what had happened since his story.
“Nothing,” he said with a laugh. “It’s hard to say. There’s nothing officially going on. Stories like this—when the truth’s been covered up—it starts to leak out.”
Bogdanich isn’t in the business of advising administrators, but, by offering tips to reporters on what to look for in the topic of college sexual assaults, he did offer some useful guidance for all.
“Openness is everything as far as I’m concerned,” Bogdanich told me. He mentioned how Senator Claire Mc Caskill of Missouri talks about schools merely “checking the box,” merely going through the motions of dealing with the problem of campus assaults without knowing if they’re really being effective.
Bogdanich mentioned gimmicky ideas like one that used the term “walk a mile in my shoes” as a prescriptive, and actually called for men to walk around campus in high heels.
Don’t know if Ru Paul came up with that. But is it effective?
“Who knows?” said Bogdanich, who added that schools simply feel good that they’re doing something.
“I think a better approach is to find something that actually works,” he said. “And then see if that’s effective. I don’t think that’s happening enough.”
Bogdanich said that reporters should be looking for conflicts, because basic things are overlooked.
For example, in some schools, the person in charge of reporting crime statistics required by the federal government (under the Clery Act for campus sexual assaults) may also be on a fund-raising committee.
That could provide the temptation not to be totally forthcoming on what might really be happening on campus.
Colleges, big and small, are prone to making that kind of error.
Bogdanich was also concerned about college drinking. No secret there. But it could be so obvious that it gets ignored. In his Jameis Winston story, he remarked on how alcohol played a role. To a reporter like Bogdanich, it indicates an area worth mining for more study.
“I think so,” Bogdanich said. “We have to look at the connection between alcohol and sexual assaults. Absolutely. Big issue.”
Those were Bogdanich’s insights after the Winston story. And it’s not just The New York Times, you should be worried about. One of the investigations honored at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference was uncovered by a campus newspaper.
It doesn’t matter who lets the sunshine in. There’s no shortage of public matters—especially in higher ed—that deserve to be exposed to the light of day.