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Maddening Middleman

by Published: Dec 4, 2013

After weeks of going through different administrators and offices, the Torch was finally able to get information of previous elections and presidents after sitting down with Andrew Kalinowski and Carman Plank of student government. Photo By: Eric Trandel | Photo Editor

After weeks of going through dif­fer­ent admin­is­tra­tors and offices, the Torch was finally able to get infor­ma­tion of pre­vi­ous elec­tions and pres­i­dents after sit­ting down with Andrew Kalinowski and Carman Plank of stu­dent gov­ern­ment.
Photo By: Eric Trandel | Photo Editor

Ideally, the mid­dle­man exists to make things run smoothly, but some­times he messes every­thing up.

In the case of the stu­dent gov­ern­ment pres­i­den­tial elec­tion results, the mid­dle­man, known here as the admin­is­tra­tion, can be thanked for the latter.

Prior to Thanksgiving break, Torch staff mem­bers met with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the stu­dent gov­ern­ment exec­u­tive board, includ­ing incoming-President Andrew Kalinowski, to dis­cuss the rela­tion­ship between the two orga­ni­za­tions. Director of Public Relations Carman Plank sug­gested the meeting.

It wasn’t long before the elec­tion results and sub­se­quent Freedom of Information Act request were brought up.

Kalinowski, who will be tak­ing over for Erin Williams, started the con­ver­sa­tion by thank­ing the Torch for its cov­er­age of stu­dent gov­ern­ment. He rec­og­nized the impor­tance of a news­pa­per on a col­lege cam­pus, espe­cially when it comes to inform­ing stu­dents about the activ­i­ties of high-profile orga­ni­za­tions like the one he soon will be leading.

After estab­lish­ing his appre­ci­a­tion, Kalinowski said because stu­dent gov­ern­ment and the Torch both strive to serve the stu­dents, it only makes sense for our orga­ni­za­tions to have a work­ing rela­tion­ship. He promised open­ness and trans­parency from that point forward.

In the spirit of our new work­ing rela­tion­ship, I asked Kalinowski and Plank, who was also present, if they had ever seen the FOIA response the Torch had received from Vice President and General Counsel Miles Postema—the mid­dle­man. Because the names of the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates had been redacted (in order to adhere to FERPA, accord­ing to Postema), the Torch was still unable to report the elec­tion results.

Kalinowski and Plank, whom had never seen the response prior to it being sent to the Torch, said they couldn’t under­stand why the names had been redacted. Postema had asked Plank to com­pile the infor­ma­tion the Torch was ask­ing for and said he would han­dle the sit­u­a­tion from that point forward.

Surprised that stu­dent gov­ern­ment had been so uncer­e­mo­ni­ously cut out of the loop, I explained to Kalinowski and Plank that the Torch needed the can­di­dates’ names in order to report the results. So, right then and there, they told the reporter work­ing on the story who the past five stu­dent gov­ern­ment pres­i­dents had been.

At last, eight months after the Torch’s ini­tial request, we finally had answers.

So, if get­ting the answers was as sim­ple as a half hour chat in SRC 102, what took so long for this to hap­pen? The answer: the middleman.

From the begin­ning, the admin­is­tra­tion has over­com­pli­cated this sit­u­a­tion. The Torch tried to talk to every­one from deans to direc­tors to vice pres­i­dents. We were even forced to appeal to Ferris President David Eisler.

The Torch con­tacted admin­is­tra­tor after admin­is­tra­tor and got nowhere.

Yet, as soon as the Torch sat in a room with stu­dent gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives, we were able to get the answers we needed to inform readers.

Of the three par­ties involved in this situation—the Torch, stu­dent gov­ern­ment and the university—it appears only two are ful­fill­ing their promise to serve students.

 
 
  • Erin

    I would like to state that it is the right of the past and present Student Government president’s and peo­ple who choose to par­tic­i­pate in the elec­tion to have pri­vacy. Legally, the Unviersity is not allowed to reveal any names. This goes against FERPA unless those can­di­dates sign a FERPA form. Any names that were given to you, were not given under appro­pri­ate cir­cum­stances. It would be ille­gal for any names to be released with­out the sig­na­tures on FERPA forms from those set people.

    • Alex Wittman, Editor-in-Chief

      Erin,

      First, thank you for your com­ment. The Torch always appre­ci­ates input from our read­ers. Newspapers greatly value the rela­tion­ship with the peo­ple it strives to serve.

      In response to your com­ment, it is evi­dent that a clear def­i­n­i­tion of FERPA is nec­es­sary. Perhaps a bet­ter under­stand­ing will allow us to move forward.

      FERPA, or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, pro­tects the con­fi­den­tial­ity of records–not facts. If infor­ma­tion about an elected offi­cial comes from a source other than an edu­ca­tional source (for instance, stu­dent gov­ern­ment elec­tion results), then that infor­ma­tion is not FERPA-protected. Such infor­ma­tion does not qual­ify as con­fi­den­tial edu­ca­tion infor­ma­tion, which is what FERPA was writ­ten to protect.

      Contrary to what you have been told, the uni­ver­sity is not bound by any law to with­hold the names of past stu­dent gov­ern­ment pres­i­dents. When a stu­dent runs for the highest-profile office on cam­pus, the stu­dent implic­itly waives a degree of pri­vacy in exchange for account­abil­ity with the peo­ple the offi­cial was elected to serve. Unfortunately, it is not uncom­mon for FERPA to be mis­un­der­stood and, ulti­mately, mis­used on col­lege campuses.

      Once again, I’d like to thank Andrew Kalinowski and Carman Plank for their will­ing­ness to coop­er­ate with the Torch. With their help, we were able to, at last, pro­vide the stu­dent body with vital infor­ma­tion. Serving the stu­dents seems to very much be the “appro­pri­ate cir­cum­stances” under which to dis­close such information.

      Once again, thank you for your inter­est in the Torch.

      Sincerely,

      Alex Wittman
      Torch Editor-in-Chief