The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024
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Teacher recognized

Craig Flournoy isn’t one for the limelight.

When asked about one of the awards he’s won – and there are many – his response isn’t about himself.

“It’s really the kids who deserve the credit,” he said.

After the assistant journalism professor won the 2006 James Madison Award from the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, he refused to keep it.

“I gave this award to the journalism department,” he said. “Any award the students have won … I give to the journalism department.”

Flournoy won the award for his “respect for the First Amendment and open government,” according to a press release from the Foundation.

Katherine Garner, the executive director of the Foundation, said that there’s a joint effort between FOIF and teachers on college campuses around the state.

“We work with university professors and their students on a selected topic that lends itself to investigative stories,” she said.

“Student wills submit FOI requests to agencies … and gather data and compile it and analyze it for trends.”

The FOIF concentrates on different topics every year.

In 2004-2005 it was campus crime, and in 2005-2006 the group focused on law enforcement officers’ use of Tasers. Flournoy, who teaches an investigative reporting class every spring, said that he almost always teaches students how to file a Freedom of Information request.

“Even when people are doing individual stories [as opposed to the usual group projects], sooner or later people will refuse to give up records,” he said. Flournoy described FOI requests as “a legal hammer to fight them.”

According to Garner, Flournoy is being recognized not for a specific article, but “for his cumulative efforts to get the [Foundation] program up and running and bring it to where it is today.”

Flournoy’s classes have broken major stories in the past three years. Students have uncovered city sponsorship of illegal dumping in South Dallas, written about the failure of campus police nationwide to inform students about sexual assaults, and detailed substandard living conditions in a story entitled “The Dorm From Hell.”

In many cases, the stories sparked authorities to take action.

The story about the Waterview apartment-dorms at the University of Texas-Dallas campus included some alarming statistics: there were 10 rapes on the campus over a three-year period, and students were only told about two.

A man awaiting trial for rape continued to live in the complex and officials failed to notify students.

The complex, which is the largest private dorm in the country, had consistent problems with leaks, broken toilets and black mold.

After the Waterview story, the university hired a new president, increased the number of cops and hired someone to oversee the apartments.

SMU and other campuses also changed policies regarding the reporting of date rape, something that previously was omitted in notifications of crime.

But Flournoy says bringing about action is only part of the yardstick for success.

He said he gave students surveys at the beginning and end of every semester asking if the class, which includes extensive time outside the classroon, was a good way to learn investigative reporting, if it motivated them to study harder and if it increased their commitment to make a difference in the community. The results, he said, “were pretty astounding.”

All of the students replied yes to the first question, two-thirds responded positively to the second and three-quarters answered the last affirmatively.

He said one of the most memorable responses came from former student Farrar Johnson, who wrote that, “you don’t learn guts in a classroom.”

Former student and SMU journalism graduate Kindal Wright worked on the UTD story in the spring of 2005. “We went to his office and he’d edit stories … we’d sit there for hours editing stories together,” she said.

“It helped hone our writing skills,” she said. Wright also said that Flournoy was a mentor. “He looked out for me and my best interests,” she said. “He knows a lot … and he’s willing to share that with you.”

Flournoy says the best part of his job is the students.

“It is amazing watching the students come together and do the kind of work they’re capable of doing,” he said.

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