Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
"News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising." - Lord Northcliffe
Democratic governments don't have to answer to voters. Public power institutions are no longer open to the purview of citizens. The truth can be hidden. Hopefully it will be forgotten.
That's the message UA officials and the Dean of Students Office sent to the campus last week as they looked to deny student government records that have historically been granted to the Arizona Daily Wildcat.
In the wake of sexual harassment complaints levied against Associated Students of the University of Arizona President Cade Bernsen last week, embarrassed and beleaguered administrators found a new way to stifle the ability of the public to access information with a tried and true catch-all cover up: FERPA.
Using the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act to deny records is a familiar dance for the Dean of Students Office. The law, which was originally intended to keep records like grades private, now encompasses any record associated with students, including drug use, underage drinking and complaints against other students.
However, a new dance step was added last week when the office balked at a routine public records request to produce e-mails sent between Bernsen and his ex-chief of staff, Tyler Carrell.
"It's a gray area and is a question that hasn't been asked before," UA spokesman Paul Allvin told the Wildcat.
While officials ponder such a "question," one that Arizona public records law answers quite succinctly, the rest of the UA community has a much more pressing question: Why now?
Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, told the Wildcat last week the UA appeared to be misconstruing federal law in order to hide information that could be embarrassing.
"It's being applied incorrectly and in a way that suggests the university is thumbing its nose at the public's right to know," Goodman said.
But the refusal on the part of officials is beyond the arrogance Goodman suggests; it is abhorrent.
The refusal is more than a mere denial of a records request; it is a fundamental denial of the democratic rights guaranteed to students on this campus.
If student government is to be protected by federal privacy laws and isn't open to the students who elected leaders to inhabit the offices, then it isn't a student government.
UA administrators must do one of two things: Either acknowledge the right of students to know what's happening in their government or know that the credibility of the administration - and the student government - has been needlessly squandered.
If administrators deny the request, they would effectively signal that student government is not actually governed by students, something that stands in stark contrast to the democratic principles espoused in so many classrooms across campus.
On the other hand, opening records that have always been open in the past would go a long way to clearing administrators from the cloud of guilt that hangs heavy over any denial.
The Wildcat will continue to challenge such denials and will not be silenced. Administrators, it's time to be honest. It's time to be open. Because, right now, you just look like hypocrites.
Opinions are determined by the Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Lori Foley, Ryan Johnson, Damion LeeNatali, Aaron Mackey, Mike Morefield, Katie Paulson and Tim Runestad.