The University of Arkansas has rethought its decision to refuse to release the names of invitees to the $450,000 gala that began a billion-dollar fund drive.
It rethought the decision after I noted the UA claim of confidentiality to protect its “competitive advantage” in wooing contributors looked dubious (dishonest?) in light of the UA decision to have a reporter from the state’s largest newspaper cover the event. Not to mention there was abundant coverage on social media by attendees. The invitation to the newspaper produced a full page of photos of attendees in last Sunday’s society section. I renewed my FOI request. Late yesterday, I received this note from PR honcho Mark Rushing:
I’ve attached the University’s response to your renewed public records request regarding your original request for “the guest list to the gala Friday night” received by the University on September 13, 2016. In a response to your original request sent to you on September 15, 2016, the University provided a partially redacted copy of the guest list to the Campaign Arkansas gala. Information regarding current donors and prospective supporters of the University was redacted, pursuant to the competitive advantage exemption of the Arkansas FOIA, Ark. Code Ann. §25-19-105(b)(9)(a). The names of student volunteers and guests was also redacted as protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In light of media coverage and social media coverage of the event and the University’s capital campaign leadership, without waiving any potential future applicability of the competitive advantage exemption of the Arkansas FOIA, we are disclosing information previously redacted related to Ark. Code Ann. §25-19-105(b)(9)(a). The names of student volunteers remain redacted as protected by FERPA
I know some will find this tiresome, silly or both. There is a point. I’ve written a column about it this week. Universities, not just UA, too often use foundations and other artifices to shield sources and use of privately donated money (an increasing need in time of declining state support). But the money operates a public institution. Sometimes favors are granted in return for that money that go beyond names on buildings. This can include the conduct and focus of academic research that will carry the university brand. It’s about accountability., particularly when the money supports ideological agendas, such as the Walton school reform propaganda unit at UA or the libertarian, anti-tax, anti-regulation “economic research” unit at the University of Central Arkansas funded by a donor President Tom Courtway won’t disclose. (We do know the Kochs helped get this effort off the ground at UCA.)
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But back to the gala: You have to doubt the transparency and intentions of a public institution that denies one newspaper access to a guest list and then invites another newspaper in to take pictures of them. PS: Also IQ.