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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.