The Arizona Desert Lamp

The sunshine that the UA doesn’t enjoy

Posted in Campus, Media, Politics by Evan Lisull on 17 March 2009

The Electronic Freedom Foundation is celebrating Sunshine Week from March 15-22, but it has nothing to do with the wonderful spring weather. From the event’s site (hat tip: Boing Boing):

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include print, broadcast and online news media, civic groups, libraries, non-profits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.

With this spirit in mind, let’s take a look at the various government entities on campus. The GPSC, as noted earlier, has made transparency one of its genuine goals, and has made some great moves in this direction. The organization’s minutes, stretching back to 2000, can be accessed here. However, they have yet to upload minutes for 2009, apparently stemming from a personal problem that rendered the former secretary unable to serve; hopefully, with the approval of a new secretary at a recent meeting, this situation will be remedied in the coming days. President Bieda also offered the GPSC’s proposed 2008-09 budget [PDF]. This is a very useful document, but it would be nice if the $43,000 appropriated for Club and POD Funding had a little more of a breakdown.

Even though this site has roundly criticized ASUA’s lack of transparency before, the organization is not entirely opaque. Filing Public Information Request Forms usually gets results, and a recent request for ASUA’s operating budget yielded a helpful response in the affirmative from current Treasurer (and former Senator) Brent Hanson (unfortunately, we won’t be able to get around to it until after spring break). The real test will come next week when we send in requests for candidate finance reports next week.

Still, ASUA has a long ways to go before it passes off the dubious honor of being the least transparent student government in the Pac-10. Why students should have to go through the university’s official Custodian of Public Records to get basic information about their student government is a question unanswered by those who propose to improve ASUA’s “transparency problems” by increasing awareness. This site has advocated for the online posting of Senate minutes and agendas since last October, to no avail. The proposed impeachment by-laws threaten to take the entire proceedings out the eyes of the public, opting instead to decide the verdict entirely behind closed doors.

In spite of all this, ASUA looks positively sunsoaked when compared to their administrative counterparts, especially when it comes to the budget. Supposedly, the budget is accessible online to any full-time student; yet after repeated attempts, your author was unable to access the file. “Perhaps,” the  staffer at the budget office said, “you don’t have access to that file.” If anybody does have the proper clearances for this information, and could pass the file along, we’d be greatly appreciated.

The other option is viewing the hard-copy budget. This version of the budget is contained in four large hard-cover tomes, and is housed in the Special Collections inner sanctum of the main library. Only two of these books can be viewed at a time, under the watchful gaze of the attendants. Notes can only be taken on paper and pencils provided by Special Collections itself.  The budget site does contain a useful file on ‘local fund allocation’ (i.e. non-state-allocated monies),  which can be accessed here. There’s a promising document entitled ‘Appropriations,’ but this PDF with an index going up to page 562 is only a four page introductory piece, with no useful information.  The UA’s Budget Book, the kind of document released to the public at several other AAU public universities, is only accessible for employees using UA IP addresses. Then there’s the resource with the promising title of the Integrated Information Warehouse. Of course:

A username and password are required to access the sites for Administrators and Deans as well as all off campus access to any of the IIW sites except for this one. You MUST be a University of Arizona employee and have legitimate need to receive an account. Fill out this electronic form completely to request access. A NetID and permission from the Office of the Registrar are required to access the site for Advisors. Access to Advisor Link (which includes the above Advisor web site access) may be requested through your College UAAC representative.

The IIW is housed under the Information Warehouse Office, which operates under the slogan of “Information Without Confusion” (if only I was good enought to make that up). Among other things, the site contains the UA’s Data Access Policy. It has a promising start:

Philosophy

The value of data as an institutional resource is increased and its accuracy improved through its widespread and appropriate use; its value is diminished through misuse, misinterpretation, or unnecessary restrictions to its access.

Inevitably followed by a thud:

Statement of Policy

Access to institutional data – the permission to view or query institutional data – is granted to all eligible employees of the University of Arizona in the performance of their assigned duties.

Except where the data trustees have designated an element or view of institutional data as being Limited-Access Data, all institutional data is designated as being University-Internal Data for use within the University. All eligible employees are permitted access to University-Internal Data for use in the performance of their assigned duties.

Speaking of bureaucratic dissonance, compare ‘Information Without Confusion’ with this clear-as-mud chart:

UA Data Flow

It’s occasionally argued that campus media sources don’t do a good enough job of doing in-depth reporting, which broadly is a very fair critique. Yet it’s very hard to do quality, detailed investigative reporting without any information to work with.

UPDATE: President Stephen Bieda comes through again, providing the most recent GPSC Club/POD funding reports (PDFs:  September 2008, October 2008 , January 2009). Appropriations Board, the ball’s in your court.

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3 Responses

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  1. Jimi Alexander said, on 17 March 2009 at 4:46 pm

    I am interested to hear that you will be requesting candidate finance reports. As a campaign manager for a candidate that didn’t make it, I’m piqued to see how much the successful candidates did spend and where.

  2. mark woodhams said, on 19 March 2009 at 10:19 am

    terrific rundown on access to public info — great to see it here, sad not to see this kind of report in the daily wildcat.

  3. […] these vaunted figures really cared about transparency- clearly, they* don’t – then they should have considered these issues a long time ago. Of course, this […]


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