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Column: FOIA Spirit

by Published: Nov 20, 2013

Openness and transparency appear to be characteristics on which Ferris State University prides itself.

In recent years, the university has made it a point to be forthcoming with information such as spending budgets, tuition increases and employee salaries. However, these ethical standards haven’t penetrated every aspect of Ferris.

As of late, the Torch has witnessed actions that exhibit blatant disregard for honesty toward the students the university claims to serve. These actions are not only disappointing, but also disturbing.

The Torch submitted two Freedom of Information Act requests to the university regarding open records information, which the public, our readers, have a right to know.

On Oct. 30, the Torch sent a FOIA request asking for the 2013 student government presidential election results. The election was held more than six months ago.

On Nov. 8, the Torch sent another FOIA request asking for the university report on the incident that resulted in the suspension of Ferris football head coach Tony Annese. The Torch joined multiple news outlets in seeking access to the information.

Vice President and General Counsel Miles Postema, who also serves as the university’s FOIA Coordinator, was included on both Torch requests. The Torch provided hand-delivered hard copies as well as e-mail attachments.

In both instances, Postema responded to the FOIA requests, as is university policy. He waited until the end of the five days to do so and sent the responses through inter-department mail.

For both the election results and the incident report, Postema requested 10-day extensions without explanation.

This process has been a frustrating one for the Torch, to say the least. As an organization that strives to serve its readers, not having the information to do so has resulted in feelings akin to censorship.

Because the university also claims to serve students, collaboration between our organizations should be a no-brainer. Yet, the Torch is still waiting for the requests to be fulfilled.

So as we sit here waiting, the Torch can’t help but speculate. Why is the university keeping this information from us? More importantly, why is the university keeping this information from you, the readers—the students they claim to serve?

While waiting until the end of the five days and then asking for an extension may be correct legally, perhaps even standard, in no realm is it correct ethically, especially from an organization that prides itself on openness and transparency.

In a proper relationship which adheres to the spirit of FOIA legislation, media outlets like the Torch should rarely need to FOIA open records. Public entities like the university should be forthcoming with information thus cultivating a positive working relationship that ultimately benefits the people both organizations work to serve.

In the case of Ferris and the Torch, those people are you.