The Arizona Desert Lamp

More services, more transparency?

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 15 October 2009

Legal ServicesThe content of this Editorial Board piece in the Wildcat is pretty harmless, but the title and conclusion are honestly baffling:

Who said anything about no transparency?Want a free answer to a pressing legal question? ASUA legal adviser Susan Ferrell can tell you whatever you need to know on certain legal issues free of charge.

“One of the biggest problems I see is when students are taken advantage of by their landlords,” she told the Wildcat yesterday. “Students often come to me in regards to getting back a security deposit.”

The security deposit problem is one that many students are familiar with, and it’s a relief to know there’s someone willing to discuss the legality of this issue at no cost. Besides advising on landlords potentially taking advantage of students, Ferrell discusses a myriad of legal issues that students may face, and she makes herself available five days a week.

For providing a necessary and helpful free service to students as well as taking a step toward transparency, ASUA gets a pass.

For starters, the presence of Legal Services hasn’t exactly been a secret – ASUA has advertised the service incessantly on their website for years, and more often than not the only indication of ASUA’s location in the Union is the presence of a Legal Services sandwich board.

The actual services do provide information about certain legal issues. But when transparency is used in context of politics, it generally refers to the releasing of information about the government’s operations. So when ASUA releases its budget and minutes online, it’s becoming more transparent – more open – about its operations. Transparency generally does not apply to the release of details about a service being provided – like the time, date, and location of an upcoming concert. ASUA has in fact made strides towards transparency already this year. Continuing to offer legal services just isn’t one of them.

Really, this isn’t snark – I just have no idea what the use of ‘transparency’ is supposed to indicate in this context. Board members are invited to any insight or clarification in the comments.


5 Responses

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  1. Laura Donovan said, on 15 October 2009 at 9:22 pm

    It probably wasn’t the best word choice, but, being that ASUA usually gets a bad rap in the newspaper and on the internet, we wanted to bring attention to something positive that they do, and believe it or not, most students don’t know about the service unless they seek it out. Few students know what is actually available to them. We were just trying to give them credit for offering a resource to students. Obviously, like I said before, transparency isn’t a proper description, but we fell through the cracks on that one, and it happens.

  2. Ben Harper said, on 19 October 2009 at 8:29 pm

    I’m sympathetic to Laura’s assertion that it was an honest mistake, and it doubtless was; it’s impossible to imagine what ulterior motives might drive anyone to replace “usefulness” with “transparency”.

    But that’s not really the issue here. The paper went to print with an absolute non sequitur in an editorial headline, which suggests that the editorial board has no idea what that word means, and which would be unacceptable in a high school paper.

    “Pass/Fail”, as I remember, is attributed to the entire editorial board. I hope that this is simply a matter of convention, and it was only one or two of the editors who allowed this to “[fall] through the cracks” – and I hope that these editors are given a thorough talking-to about the risks of using words with which one isn’t entirely comfortable.

  3. Laura Donovan said, on 20 October 2009 at 7:05 am

    Hi Ben,

    Errors happen all the time, even in newspapers such as the New York Times and Boston Globe. This says nothing about the Editorial Board’s (made up of seven people) overall intelligence or understanding of the word, we just occasionally overlook certain details as I’m sure you do.

    This was kind of a huge mistake on our parts, but the editors of the newspaper have other important things to worry about than every word in each editorial that goes out. We print 1-3 editorials a week and there are definitely times when these kinds of things happen. It’s not like we published another racist cartoon or anything, so I wouldn’t consider this an unforgivable error as you seem to imply.

  4. Ben Harper said, on 20 October 2009 at 11:30 pm

    It’s true! I more than occasionally overlook “certain details” – you, having had the unique misfortune of seeing me every day for two months, probably know that better than most – and I sympathize with whoever the progenitor of this particular boner may have been.

    But I question your assertion that “the editors of the newspaper have other important things to worry about than every word in each editorial that goes out.” It seems that, in point of fact, the words which an editor prints in his paper are exactly what he should be worrying most about.

    And I did not indict the editor-in-chief in my original comment, who no doubt (in addition to his preeminent duty to worry about every word) has a great deal else on his plate – formatting, advertising, etc. – simply the editorial board which, as I understand it, has as its (sole?) responsibility the content of the editorial page.

    I understand that this probably sucks for those involved, and I never suggested that it had any bearing on anyone’s “overall intelligence.” But I do stand by the sentiment that you (correctly) attributed to me – namely, that whoever wrote this article apparently had no idea what the word “transparency” meant. There is literally no other explanation for this phenomenon (that is, no explanation which Occam’s Razor would spare; I suppose it could have been ninjas/aliens/those-damn-troublemaking-kids). And it speaks to the amount of editing that is actually being done – the editing process for this particular article would have been as short as it was straightforward:

    Step 1: Read article
    Step 2: Think, “Oh hey! This article is absolutely unrelated to transparency!”
    Step 3: Remove the word “transparency”.

    That’s pretty much it. My guess is that this article was slapped onto the page at the last possible moment, basically unread by anyone other than the writer prior to publication. Otherwise, I can’t imagine how it ever could have been sent out. This is a hypocritical critique for Ben Harper, the world’s leading procrastinator, to levy at any man, but the hypocritical is not necessarily false.

    So yes, you guys aren’t racist. Truly, this is excellent news! I’m not a racist either – nor an axe-murderer, nor a war criminal. But that doesn’t mean I’m not an asshole starting flame wars on the internet. And just because the Wildcat hasn’t slurred its way into another massive shitstorm this year doesn’t mean its columnists – people who purport to deal in words – needn’t know what those words mean. I would have thought that to be an uncontroversial thesis.

    (P.S.: I can all but guarantee that if something analogous was printed in the Times or the Globe, not just one but many heads would roll.)

  5. Laura Donovan said, on 21 October 2009 at 12:24 am

    Hi Ben,

    Good points, and for the record, I never felt you overlooked “certain details” in France, unless of course you were speaking French, but that’s only because none of us knew how to communicate that well in a foreign language.

    You stated your argument better the second time around, and I do agree that the article should not have had a confusing headline. This editorial was viewed by six (at the time) board members, the EIC, and the copy staff. Typically, copy is extremely competent, but as I said, they sometimes make mistakes and the entire ship goes down. It’s important for all of us to write accurate editorials and columns, but the “transparency” slip is not nearly as detrimental as libel or a false news story, so clearly, this minor mistake can be overlooked from time to time. That’s all I’m saying. We have our faults but we normally publish great staff edits that don’t have convoluted language.

    And yes, if this was printed at a bigger newspaper, people would talk. That’s perfectly understandable. It’s troublesome when friends talk about friends, however. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t think it was particularly tactful of this blog to bring attention to this editorial since the writer has friends on the O Board. My one rule I’ve set for myself in journalism is to never, ever write about friends. I could have broken a particular story this year and I did not because I knew it would damage a few friendships, and my friends are more important to me than a blog post. Ben, I’m not blaming you for critiquing this. Just the fact that this was posted was kind of a disappointment. It’s one thing to disagree with someone’s opinion and another to publicly point out that your friends have done something completely moronic. From a journalistic level, the O Board appreciates the constructive criticism, but from a personal level, it’s just not cool to draw attention to the dumb mistakes friends make. Sure, we should be held accountable for our actions, but that can be done in a private message rather than in a public forum.

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