Improve TU #2: Open access to information a necessity

As a private university, TU lacks transparency, limiting access to staff and not adhering to the Open Records Act.

Access to information is a cornerstone of good research and good governance, and TU, if it wants to be a great school, should implement a policy of increased openness. This would involve both following the Open Records Act and Freedom of Information Act, as public universities must, but also altering the practice of getting information from faculty or staff.

Currently, as a private university, TU isn’t obligated by federal or state laws to provide much information to interested students or members of the public. Private universities must release the IRS Form 990 report, as well as their accreditation reports and follow the Clery Act. The Clery Act requires a record of the “what, where and when” of serious crimes. Public universities, meanwhile, must provide any information that the public requests, with exemptions based on state and federal law, but generally having to do with protecting personal information of students, faculty or donors. University Relations deals with media requests, including student media, for further information. This department finds the person(s) of interest and then provides the media with responses to the media’s questions; rarely does a face-to-face interview occur.

As student journalists, the staff of the “Collegian” have attempted to get information an untold amount of times from the university. Kayleigh Thesenvitz, the editor-in-chief, described the process like this: “We ask for information, they examine the information and may tell us the positive parts about the information.” Hannah Kloppenburg, the social media manager, said “access to in-person interviews is limited, and usually the responses we get are pretty canned, PR-type responses over email.” In my experience, I have been able to meet with some staff members in person, but have also received emails of interviews, as described by Kloppenburg. Further, Thesenvitz added, “I have never once gotten a physical document detailing information I’ve asked for, only canned statements or interviews.”

By limiting and controlling what information is given out, the university can control their image very carefully. It can ensure, like any corporation, that the image it puts out is its best one.

But is putting out the best image always the best move? Transparency in a university promotes a culture of accountability and allows students to be better informed about what’s going on. If the university knows its business could be examined at any minute, then they might do things a step above what they currently do. The university, ideally, has nothing to hide, and thus nothing to prevent it from becoming more transparent.

A university owes accountability to its students, who, in part, fund its operation. Plus, government grants fund some of the research at TU, furthering the argument that TU should be transparent to the public.

Allowing student journalists, at least, the ability to reach out directly to staff, without going through university relations, would be a step forward the university desperately needs. At the same time, TU should also adhere, in spirit, to the Open Records Act, by providing actual documents when requested. These moves would be a step towards transparency at TU and would allow student journalists to better inform their fellow students of how the university works. Many times over the years, the “Collegian’s” stories haven’t been as strong as they should be, because of a lack of transparency from the university and inability to get responses in a timely fashion, as they must be filtered through University Relations first. Changing two practices would help our university community be more open and let students know what they’re paying for, and shouldn’t be much of a concern if the university is running as it should.

Post Author: Michaela Flonard