The University of Arkansas is playing secrecy games again.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request for the list of those invited to the UA System and UA chancellor’s sky boxes at the first two home football games of the season in Razorback stadium, I was given an incomplete list. Said spokesman Laura Jacobs:
On the “Arkansas vs Texas Tech (Campaign Weekend)” list, there are names redacted, pursuant to Ark. Code Ann § 25-19-105(b)(9)(A) competitive advantage. I have also redacted computer access ID numbers, pursuant to Ark. Code Ann § 25-19-105(b)(11). The redactions are apparent.
Some 14 names were omitted.
Back we go to when the UA claimed — and won (lamentably) from Circuit Judge Chris Piazza — a competitive advantage exemption from releasing documents about the conditions of the gift if received from the Walton family. The Arkansas Times had sued for the information. We lost. We couldn’t afford the appeal. We got some comfort from the opinion of legal scholars, including future federal Judge Leon Holmes, that a public institution had no legal ground to claim a competitive disadvantage from releasing information about its money-raising activities. It’s an issue begging for resolution.
Now the UA is pretending again to be a private endeavor and using competition as a pre-text to hide the public’s business — this time recipients of high-dollar football tickets.
More to come on the skybox matter that led to the redaction, but the element seemed relevant to the earlier article about the Freedom of Information Act fight that had to be waged to dislodge information about Kansas University matters related to giving by the Koch family.
When it comes to money, the UA likes secrecy — at the UA Foundation, at the Razorback Foundation, in the skyboxes. Maybe they were feting some Texans. Or somebody from Illinois. Both states are targets of the campus’ cut-rate tuition program for select out-of-staters, a benefit that helped the new freshman class over the 50 percent percentage this year.
UPDATE: I asked for, and got, the lame excuse I expected from UA for legal justification of the secrecy.
25-19-105. Examination and copying of public records.
(a) Except as otherwise specifically provided by this section or by laws specifically enacted to provide otherwise, all public records shall be open to inspection and copying by any citizen of the State of Arkansas during the regular business hours of the custodian of the records.
(9) (a) Files which, if disclosed, would give advantage to competitors or bidders;
Prospective donor disclosure could cause us competitive harm with other institutions knowing who we are soliciting.
I was there when that exemption was written. It was to protect private records that might come into state possession, not the state of Arkansas. Here, it is also silly.
My response: Baloney. I hope someday a deep pocket can take this to the Supreme Court decision for accountability that’s called for. Meanwhile shame on Interim Chancellor Dan Ferritor or whoever is calling the shot against the public’s right to know.
UPDATE: See a subsequent post for a recent skybox renovation and some political elements in that change.