The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported this morning on something I’d ignored earlier because it struck me as empty posturing. But the article prompts me to reconsider.
I was among 207 people employed by Arkansas media who received an e-mail earlier this week from Laura Jacobs, the new top public relations official at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. I’ve printed it below in full.
The UA will have a task force on the Freedom of Information Act and on improving access to information and, not incidentally, to “reduce administrative burdens.”
Chancellor David Gearhart told D-G reporter Bill Bowden that he wanted to ensure the UA provides “transparency in all we do.” Without process changes that aren’t likely to happen this will be a PR event that produces little of substance.
Bowden reported that chief flak Jacobs said the one-hour meeting was not “an interview opportunity or a news conference, but a conversation ….” She said the UA was all ears. For 60 minutes with 207 people attending in person and by phone. It will most likely resemble the dog-and-pony show Gearhart put on with a roomful of his well-paid aides dissembling, after unflattering audit findings, about the advancement division financial scandal and coverup.
Lou Holtz wrote the book on FOI compliance and other official conduct.
To date, the UA has suffered entirely too many failures to do right. Count me cynical about this mass PR goat-roping. I’ve already sent my input to the “conversation” by return e-mail. I suspect it’s already hit the UAF round file. (That reminds me. Another suggestion: No more destruction of Chancellor Gearhart’s e-mail.) For the record, my e-mail response was this:
The university should take steps to provide transparency for its two most significant revenue-raising arms, the Razorback Foundation and the University of Arkansas Foundation.
The continued policy of running official university business through those money laundries dooms any promise of a good-faith effort toward openness by UA-F.
UPDATE: Coincidentally, the blog devoted to transparency issues reports shortcomings in the campus’ reporting of pay to top administrators, including Gearhart and Athletic Director Jeff Long.
February 18, 2014
Dear Arkansas Media Members:
University of Arkansas Chancellor G. David Gearhart has appointed a task force to examine the ways in which the University of Arkansas can better respond to your needs when you or members of the public make Freedom of Information Act requests and to improve our internal process in ways that ease public access and reduce administrative burden. I am chair of this effort.
The recent approval of University of Arkansas Board of Trustees Policy 270.1 further provides the opportunity for the university to study current practice and gain greater insights from those who use FOIA.
That’s why I’m writing.
I would like to invite you to attend a participatory session on the University of Arkansas campus, for members of the media to share their experiences and perceptions about using the Freedom of Information Act with regard to campus records. To be clear, this isn’t an interview opportunity, or a news conference, but a conversation to help inform our next steps from an operational standpoint.
We hope you will be doing the talking, and we will be doing the listening.
Some of the topics that may be discussed include “What tools would help in FOIA efforts?” “What are some of the issues you’ve encountered?” “How are your expectations of our response to FOIA met?” “Why do you use FOIA as opposed to other methods of inquiry, i.e., asking questions?”
We will gather at 11 a.m. until noon, Friday, February 28, 2014, in Davis Hall. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org so that we may have enough seating available. Limited parking is available behind Davis Hall – and there is parking available in one of the campus parking decks. The following teleconference number will be available for those who cannot attend and wish to participate. 1-888-330-1716, use access code 6294598.
For your reference, the composition of the task force is this:
· Laura Jacobs, convener, university relations
· Mark Rushing, FOIA coordinator, university relations
· Kevin Trainor, FOIA coordinator, athletics
· Judy Schwab, chancellor’s office
· Gary Gunderman, provost’s office
· Charlie Alison, university relations
· Steve Voorhies, university relations
· Chris Branam, university relations
· Gary Crain, University of Arkansas Police Department
· Tim O’Donnell, financial affairs office
· Darinda Sharp, J. William Fulbright College of Arts & Sciences
While not on the task force, the Office of the General Counsel will serve in an advisory capacity.
I hope you’ll consider joining us. We plan to hold another session in Little Rock and will let you know about that.
Associate Vice Chancellor
University of Arkansas