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November 12, 2014 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 2014-11-12

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Page 4A - Wednesday, November 12, 2014

1~

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Edited and managed by students at
the University of Michigan since 1890.
420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
tothedaily@michigandaily.com
MEGAN MCDONALD
PETER SHAHIN and DANIEL WANG KATIE BURKE
EDITOR IN CHIEF EDITORIAL PAGE EDITORS MANAGING EDITOR
Unsigned editorials reflect the official position of the Daily's editorial board.
All other signed articles and illustrations represent solely the views of their authors.
F ROM T HE DA ILY
Nothing to hide.?
A pattern of obstructing transparency has emerged at the 'U'
n the aftermath of former Athletic Director Dave Brandon's
resignation, questions have been raised surrounding
the University's public document retention procedure.
Michigan's Freedom of Information Act requires any public
body to provide access to a public record to any person who
submits a specific request. Additionally, the state provides a
number of Retention and Disposal Schedules for state agencies
to follow regarding appropriate maintenance and disposal of
public records. Despite the fact that these retention schedules
are required for state agencies, University administrators
have argued that the school itself is "not a formal part of state
government" and therefore exempt from the state's document
retention policy. While there are conflicting opinions about
whether or not state document retention policies apply to the
University, it's also unclear why the school has taken itself to be
an exception and is engaging in a larger pattern of behavior that
obscures public transparency.

At the docks

Avery spent the Winter Semes-
ter studying abroad in Vifa
del Mar, Chile.
On Wednesday
I skip my 10:30
a.m. class and
take a train down
to the wharf. It's
a short ride away
from my host
family's house in
the suburbs, and
I can smell the AVERY
fish in the air long DIUBALDO
before the doors
open.
Once inside, I pass along the
stands where fishmongers tear the
guts from conger eels and slop them
in buckets, hacking off the heads
without looking and handing them
to their children to throw to the
gulls. They keep their eyes up at the
crowd shopping for lunch, at me, at
the sea, their knives flashing away
unsupervised. No gloves.
Under a plaster statue of Saint
Peter, a man in rubber overalls
cuts slices from an enormous fish,
vertically, as if from a loaf of bread.
The statue ' memorializes "our
martyrs, fallen in the fulfillment of
their labors," their names carved in
the base and painted black. People
have died for almost everything -
stopwatches, television shows, car
tires. But many people have died
for fish. The want for fish, like for
bread or for gold, is such an old
and elemental thing that the ocean
yawns open to match its hunger for
human destruction.
I walk to the jetties. Of the two of
them, only one charges an entrance
fee: 200 pesos for pole-fishing. The
other is free and good for watching
sea lions. A whole pack of them thud
against the pier. In Chile they're
called lobos del mar - sea wolves,
not lions - but they look more like

living sausages.
I've come here
February. I stood:
aged man ina light
lunch break from h
The sea lions gath
below us.
"What do theyv
in broken Spanish.
"The fishermen
feed them."
"What do they fe
"Fish," he said.
"Is that what th
"In the ocean?"
He looked at m
child. "Of course,'
else are they going
"Birds?"
"No," he said,
course not."
A fisherman
threw a bucket
of fish heads
over the edge of
the pier and the
sea lions foamed
in the red chum.
We watched
until the fish
were gone and
the lions swam
out to sea.

run down the beach toward the pier.
once before, in They sprint from one end of the sand
next to a middle- to the other in the endless task of
t suit who was on policing their border, scaring gulls
his job in the city. into flight.
sered in the surf The smaller one catches a pelican.
I'm not sure how he managed it - I
wait for?" I asked was watching the sky when it hap-
pened, worrying about the clouds,
he said. "They dark with rain - but when I look
down he's already gripped the bird
eed them?" by the neck. Everyone is surprised:
the dog, the pelican, the three of us
iey eat?" I asked. watching on the pier. Now what?
The dog whips the bird around
e as if I were a in a few dizzy circles and lets it go,
" he said. "What bored, or confused, and runs to
to eat?" join his partner at the pier. There,
the waves sweep the lions onto the
confused. "Of sand, where the dogs snap at them,
and then the waves sweep the dogs
into the water,
and the sea lions
do the same. It
goes on like this.
Nature can be They're waiting,
all of them, for
majestic, but only the fisherman
to come with
when it's not coughing. his bucket of
chum, the dogs
starving with-
out the summer

0

"Is that really
what you thought?" he asked. "That
they ate birds?"
I had only asked the question
to keep the conversation going. To
be honest, I'd never really thought
about it.
That was the height of summer.
This afternoon, in cold May, a tour-
ist couple dressed in dark rain jack-
ets lean on the railing a few feet
away and whisper to each other. A
sea lion lolls on its belly and coughs
at us, gaping. Nature can be majes-
tic, but only when it's not coughing.
Distant yapping grows louder as
a pair of hungry-looking street dogs

tourists to give
them scraps, the sea lions dependent
on the daily feeding, the lunchtime
ritual.
And the pelican, alone, clambers
to its feet and leaps in the air. One
wing flaps, but the other only shud-
ders, and the bird hooks down to the
ground. It comes in at a bad angle
and hits the sand with all its weight.
Pelicans are heavy. Dazed, it wan-
ders to a pile of rocks and looks up
at the gulls, hundreds of feet above,
flashing in the sky like silver fish.
- Avery DiUbaldo can be
reached at diubaldo@umich.edu.

When The Michigan Daily submitted a
FOIA request for "all e-mails sent to and from
Athletic Director Dave Brandon between
March 13 and 14,2014," on March 28, Patricia
Sellinger, the University's FOIA coordinator,
informed the Daily that such records did
not exist.
"It's our policy that it's up to individual
users to determine their own document
retention," said University spokesman Rick
Fitzgerald. So in this case, it appears that the
University as a whole has no specific e-mail
retention policy, and therefore allows its own
employees to maintain a retention policy that
makes administrative e-mails unavailable
fp the public in just two weeks at best. This
hardly seems like a policy that promotes
transparency. In fact, a document retention
process that forces the public to file a FOIA
request within a two-week window - further
shortenedby the five-day grace period granted
for a response - actually makes access to
public records extremely difficult to obtain.
Regardless of the University's legal status
and responsibility to abide by state document
retention policy, it's morally impermissible for
the University to neglect its responsibility to
diligently maintain public records.
AccordingtoWesternMichiganUniversity's
Record Retention Guide, "E-mail messages,
both those stored in the computer and those
printed out, should not be considered private.
E-mail messages may be considered public
records pursuant to Michigan and federal law
and may be subject to disclosure." WMU has
stipulated that e-mails, along with several
other types of documents, must be retained
under certain established guidelines. For
example, any correspondence designated
under its retention guidelines must be kept
for three years. Similarly, Michigan State
University and Northern Michigan University
closely follow state guidelines pertaining
to record management and retention. MSU
dictates that any record pertaining to general
correspondence involving an administrator
about the workplace must be kept for two
years or as long as the record is active.
While NMU doesn't seem to give specific
timeperiodsforrecordretentiononitswebsite,
it states that according to the Michigan Penal
Code, disposal of university records without
the approval of a university archivist or
authorization of the approved Retention and
Disposal Schedule may result in penalization
by the state courts, suggesting NMU considers
itself a state agency.
But perhaps even more troubling is that in
recent years, the University has developed
something of a bad habit of obstructing access
to public information.
In 2011, the Daily filed a series of FOIA
requests to multiple Big Ten schools and found
that the University of Michigan consistently
charged significantly higher fees for such
requests. Specifically, the Daily requested the
number of parking tickets issued by campus
police within a one-year time frame. While Big
Ten schools such as Indiana University, the
University of Iowa, the University of Nebraska

and The Ohio State University all provided
the information free of charge, the University
of Michigan estimated a fee of $1,240. The
total number of parking tickets provided was
comparable across these schools, suggesting
comparable corresponding costs at each
university - unless, of course, the University
of Michigan's documentation procedure is
highly inefficient relative to similar Big Ten
institutions.
The Daily also requested records for
employee purchasing card transactions in a
one-year span, for which the University of
Michigan charged $1,800 for data on nine
administrators. In comparison, the University.
of Iowa charged $181.50 for records on more
than 2,500 employees. The University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University
of Nebraskaand OSU provided the information
for free. Such excessive fees create a de facto
barrier between the public and its right to
access governmental documents. It is illegal
for the University to charge substantial
fees for the purpose of discouraging FOIA
requests, but a disorganized and inefficient
record-keeping process that leads to high fees
effectively creates identical repercussions. In
the end, the public is financially discouraged
from pursuing University records.'
Earlier this year, the University again acted
in a manner that effectively blocked access
to public information. In late January, after
former Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons was
permanently separated from the school for a
violation of the Student Sexual Misconduct
Policy, the University refused to confirm
the separation and elected not to respond
to public outrage over the four-year delay of
disciplinary action against Gibbons. Among
other reasons, the University used the Family
Educational Rights and Privacy Act as an
excuse to justify its silence, even though the
text of FERPA does not prohibit the University
from "disclosing the final results of any
disciplinary proceeding ... against a student
who is an alleged perpetrator of any crime of
violence, or a nonforcible sex offense ... " After
declining to release information pertaining to
Gibbons, Fitzgerald said school administrators
considered "the spirit of the law" as well as
"the letter of the law."
Looking at all these different cases, it is
clear that the University is behaving in a
suspicious manner. The problem is that it
appears as though the University has become
too fond of using "the spirit of the law," often
interpreting the law in different ways that
always appear to be at odds with institutional
transparency. In some ways this makes
complete sense, and a strong sense of self-
preservation is to be expected. But in doing so,
the University is mortgaging its future in order
to inflate an artificial image now. A failure
to openly admit flaws and mistakes prevents
the University from wholeheartedly pursuing
possible solutions. The school must adopt a
long-term perspective for its own well-being,
as engaging in dubious practices that mitigate
today's problems will only allow underlying
faults to fester and reemerge in the future.

EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBERS
Edvinas Berzanskis, Devin Eggert, David Harris, Rachel John, Jordyn
Kay, Aarica Marsh, Megan McDonald, Victoria Noble, Michael
Paul, Allison Raeck, Melissa Scholke, Michael Schramm, Matthew
Seligman, Mary Kate Winn, Jenny Wang, Daniel Wang, Derek Wolfe

Draw back the curtains

A s an incoming college
student, one of the
questions that I was most
frequently asked
- up there with
which classes I
signed up for and
where I was living
- was whether or
not I had bought
football season
tickets, and if I
was excited for VICTORIA
the season to NOBLE
start. Some asked
rather ironically
- my all-girls
high school didn't have a football
team, and unless you counted
skiing, sailing or lacrosse, I never
really cared much for sports. But
some, maybe most, asked with
genuine excitement, eager for me
to experience what was, in their
view, one of the best parts of life as
a University of Michigan student.
Before I even arrived on campus,
I understood the privileged place
that football held at the University.
Things have certainly changed
since then. A series of high-profile
mistakes resulted in glaring media
pressure and student protest, and
ultimately, the resignation of former
Athletic Director Dave Brandon. But
that's not what this column is about.
Enough has been written already
about the trials and tribulations
of Michigan football. Univeristy
President Mark Schlissel, in an
earnest though decidedly awkward
recent talk, put it rather well. "If
we had won Nobel Prizes this year,
we wouldn't have gotten as much
attention as did our A.D.," Schlissel
said. "It's sad but it's really true."
The public scrutiny that natural-
ly follows an athletic program as big
and profitable as ours, intensified
by a lackluster season, prompted
relentless information-gathering
and commentary on a traditionally
opaque organization, revealing key
institutional flaws. This pressure is
rarely, if ever, applied to other areas
of University administration. The
public just doesn't seem as inter-
ested in playing a watchdog role on,
say, the Board of Regents or Office
of Undergraduate Admissions.
But in terms of their effect on
student experience, these groups
are just as important. Yet, just like
the Athletic Department's well-

documented lackc
- deleting e-mai
could be accessed
of Information A
adjusting ticket pri
without student in
in the deciding prc
the fact - the Unix
practiced its own b
But, I can't give
kinds of examples
sity. It's possible th
Regents, each indi
department, the O
graduate Admission
versity bodies hide
evidence of misha
similar to the wayt
Department has. W
because the inform
able or easily access
not the Universityi
something wrong, o
to know, in itself, is:
In July, The De
filed a lawsuit agai
sity for its alleged
Open Meetings Act
the regents to me
formally vote. Wh
do hold public me
Press called into qu
private meetings to
things, before form
erencing their data:
voted on between J
February 2014,
12 were dis-
cussed by the
regents at these
meetings. The
regents' failure
to include the
public in impor-
tant decisions
is problematic
regardless ~-of
whether or not
they are techni-
cally violating any 1
By failing to inc
- or at the very le,
faculty - in majo
regents and other
erning bodies are gi
mistakes that prob:
to some of the A
ment's poorer de
students aren't i
administrative deci
way for them to voi
and concern. Ther
no exchange, no in
best, the administr

of transparency perpetuating an information prob-
ils before they lem between itself and its students;
by a Freedom at its worst, the University makes
ct request and itself appear as though it has some-
ces and policies thingto hide. Either way, the lack of
put and insight transparency makes it difficult for
ocess until after students to exercise any informed
versity itself has oversight of their school.
rand of opacity. And maybe students don't want
e you the same to anyway. It's possible that students
for the Univer- may not care to voice concern over
iat the Board of issues that don't involve nationally
vidual academic televised sporting events. I'd have
ffice of Under- to guess that this isn't the case. The
s and other Uni- student body is distinguished in its
from students' high levels of engagement. In the past
ndled situations year alone, we've seen protest over
that the Athletic the University's role in international
e just don't know, security (or human rights, depending
ation isn't avail- on how youwant toviewit) and envi-
ible. Whether or ronmental issues. There have been
is actually doing protests about the handling of sexual
ur limited ability assault cases and the experience and
a problem. admission rates of racial minori-
troit Free Press ties. Deeper access to the informa-
inst the Univer- tion surrounding these issues could
violation of the have furthered debate on these
,which requires issues, or given rise to debate on new
et publically to issues altogether, allowing students
ile the regents to assume an even greater role in
etings, the Free addressing problems that undoubt-
estion the use of edly color their college experiences.
actually decide It's time that the University draw
rally voting, ref- back the curtain on its decision-
that of 116 things making processes and shed light on
anuary 2013 and the rationale behind its policies. The
University is an
incredibly large
It's time that the organization
it ti e tat he that performs
University draw back a huge array
of functions,
the curtain and shed and governing
it is more com-
light on the rationale plicated than
behind its . students often
polcies, give it credit
for. But despite
the impressive
aws. research, high-tech development
lude the public and lifesaving procedures that
ast students and occur at any given time at the Uni-
r decisions, the versity, the school serves a more
University gov- basic purpose for its more than
uilty of the same 40,000 students: it is the frame-
ably contributed work within which their entire
kthletic Depart- college experience will take place.
ecisions. When Prioritizing those students means
nformed about allowing them input and access to
sions, there's no information on decisions made by
ice their opinion the University.

lw

6
6
0

CONTRIBUTE TO THE CONVERSATION
Readers are encouraged to submit letters to the editor and
viewpoints. Letters should be fewer than 300 words
while viewpoints should be 550-850 words.
Send the writer's full name and University affiliation to
tothedaily@michigandaily.com.

0

's no dialogue,
iput. At its very
ation is actively

- Victoria Noble can be
reached at vjnoble@umich.edu.

Ip

I

1

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