Secrecy – the UI administration can’t kick their habit (and won’t even try)

CFA commented recently on excessive secrecy surrounding the ongoing Presidential search – the kind of secrecy that brought us Michael Hogan the last time around.

Secrecy comes naturally to the administration at this university. Here’s a telling example. Earlier this month, the Campus Faculty Association asked the UI administration for copies of the 2012-2013 data on Enrollment, Graduation Rates, Student Financial Aid, University Finances, etc., that they submitted to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), run by the federal government. We filed the request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and expected no problems since the information is already 11 months old.

So what did the administration release in response to our polite and specific request? Nada. Nothing. Zero. Zip. Absolutely no data released. University spokesman Thomas Hardy wrote “Documents that are provided to IPEDS by the University are considered draft data by both the University and IPEDS until publication.” He advised the CFA to wait until the government puts the data up on their website: “We expect that IPEDS will post their data by October of this year.”

You can read the administration’s full response here.

The university’s legalistic reasoning is nonsense, and their labeling of the documents as a “draft” is a technique for avoiding legitimate FOIA requests. Many other universities do precisely what the UI claims is prohibited: they post their IPEDS data on their university websites immediately after sending it to the federal government. The UI’s high-priced legal team should look online at the IPEDS data for 2012-2013 posted by, for example, the Universities of Colorado, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Wisconsin.

And how about the claim by the UI that FERPA laws prevent them from releasing their IPEDS data on “Graduation Rates” and “Student Financial Aid”? Readers can examine for themselves the corresponding data from Colorado and North Carolina (links above), and decide whether the data contains any “identifiable student information” that would prohibit disclosure. Those universities clearly don’t think so, and neither do we.

We will challenge the UI’s stonewalling in an appeal to the Public Access Counselor at the Illinois Attorney General’s office.

But the problem is bigger. Information is power. The administration consistently deprives faculty, students and parents of basic information about the university. By keeping faculty in the dark they reduce our ability to speak out and influence the future of the institution. Sunlight is the best disinfectant – and we need more sunlight shining on the University of Illinois.

CFA is working for a faculty union that will balance the power of the administration with a strong faculty voice. Join our effort if you support that goal.