Monday, April 21, 2014

We're Embarrassed.

We're embarrassed by a university that favors secrecy over transparency.    I'm also proud of the best editorial I've ever seen in Kent State University's student paper, starting with the headline:   

"The worst public transparency crisis since the last time around"

Student journalist Daniel Moore writes with force and precision.   Let me retype here the first four graphs of a powerful editorial.

From the DKS Editorial:  

University officials have declared they're done talking about the presidential search that found President-Elect Beverly Warren.  We wish we could be done too.

We wish we didn't have to remind the top lawyer at a state-funded institution of public records law.   But when General Counsel Vice President Willis Walker referred questions of public record to a private firm earlier this month, we feel something has gone horribly awry.

It's the latest in a series of progressively more-head-scratching offenses that won't go away until the school proves that a quarter-million dollars of public money was spent correctly.  By refusing to release any receipts or copies of any invoices that indicate finalists' names or identifying information, Walker is failing to provide proof that those funds were properly spent.  

Walker said Storbeck/Pimental & Associates, the university's private contractor who assisted the school in finding Warren, has been given all the records and the authority to release them if it wants.   He even suggested the firm could have already destroyed some of the records.

You read that right, Kent State University signed a contract that lets a search firm in Pennsylvania determine what is a public record in Ohio.  Akron Beacon Journal reporter Carol Biliczky reported that fact more than a week ago along with details on how Kent State officials had shredded documents.   How did Governor John Kasich react to a public institution shredding public records documenting the search for the top position at a state university, an action approved by the governor-appointed Board of Trustees?   He didn't.  

What does Governor John Kasich plan to do about a public institution signing a contract that allows a firm in Pennsylvania to determine what is public record in Ohio?    

Although I'm embarrassed by and ashamed of my employer, a university that thumbs its nose at Ohio's public records law, I'm proud of Kent State student journalists pushing for transparency and for holding university officials accountable.  I trust both student journalists and the Akron Beacon Journal will be asking for an interview with the Governor. 


Monday, April 14, 2014

Come to Ohio and Cheat

In her story on Kent State University shredding documents to prevent the public from seeing how the Presidential Search Committee selected its new president, Akron Beacon Journal reporter Carol Biliczky may have come up with the ideal way for students to improve their GPA.

Thankfully, Ohio has a fairly strong public records law.   Every public agency must have a records retention schedule that indicates what documents must be kept and for how long.
When it comes to hiring, the law requires transparency in the public sector.   Material received from job applicants, like those applying to be president of a state university, are public records, and hiring an outside firm to do the search doesn't change that.   The Supreme Court of Ohio settled that in Plain Dealer Publishing Co, v. City of Cleveland and ordered the city to release the records on all applicants because the private firm conducting the search "acted for a public purpose."

As the headline of Carol Beliczky's report states:  "Kent State Shredded Documents to Hide Information About Presidential Search."  But for the Kent State Presidential Search Committee that wasn't sufficient.   It decided to write its own contract to specifically ignore Ohio's Public Records Law.   As Carol reports, "...the university signed a contract addendum giving its private search firm, Storbeck Pementel and Associates of Media, Pa, the power to decide what records are released to the public."

Any first-year law student would be able to explain to members of the Presidential Search Committee that laws are passed by the legislature and become law after being signed by the governor or upon the legislature overriding a gubernatorial veto.   Private parties can't simply write a contract to decide to change the law.   Neither the Kent State Presidential Search Committee nor its hired contractor can decide what is a public record.   The law does that. 

But given the Presidential Search Committee's actions, its behavior provides a fabulous template for students so they can all graduate with honors.   Kent State students should just follow the example set by the Presidential Search Committee.  They can ignore whatever is in a course syllabus.   They can just write their own agreement on what is necessary to get an A.   If they want, they could be like athletes at North Carolina and get an A for a class they don't even have to attend.    

A cautionary note here:  if students acted like the Presidential Search Committee, they'd probably get into trouble.

Since it's the law that dictates what public records are and the records retention schedule dictates what records must be kept and for how long, do you think the actions of the Kent State University  Presidential Search Committee may generate an investigation from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation?  Will the State of Ohio simply do nothing about a state agency that has decided a firm in Pennsylvania can determine what records are public in Ohio?

Keep reading the Akron Beacon Journal, the only news organization that is continuing to push on an important story.

The threat to democracy is NOT terrorism.   The threat to democracy is government secrecy at whatever level it exists.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Another Coach Hired, Another Missed Story

Ohio University has hired a new basketball coach for only $550 thousand a year, a sum that would allow a university to hire half a dozen or more tenure track professors.   One question you won't hear the sports reporters ask is who pays for that?   It's a story the sports reporters will ignore again.  It's the academic students who pay.  The highest student fee charged to students at OU goes to fund athletics.    And college athletic budget crisis time is coming to our universities.    Sports reporters may ignore the stories; university presidents may ignore the problem.   But what can't be ignored too much longer is economic reality.  

With Monday's night Final Four championship game, it's a good time to remind university presidents, teachers, and taxpayers of the economic reality of college sports, a topic Dr. Andrew Zimbalist has been studying and analyzing for years.   

As he points out, most programs lose millions of dollars a year now.     Click and listen to what he predicts is coming.  


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Is March Madness Academic Madness?

One story you probably won't find in the local sports section or on local TV as everyone cheers on the team, is how many classes athletes miss.

The NCAA says academics is a “core priority” for it and its member institutions.  Is March Madness actually academic madness?   

How many classes do student athletes miss due to game schedules and injuries?   How many classes and study days do athletes suffering from concussions miss?   With a concussion, medical experts say a student should refrain from studying because the brain needs rest.  What are the numbers like for the Mid American Conference?   Click and watch this report from Kent State University student journalist Jason Kostura.    For you reporters, go ask your university's athletic director to do an interview about how the department analyzes class absence and the impact missing class has on academic performance.   Unfortunately, not a single athletic director in the Mid American Conference would agree to an interview on the topic.