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UISG is lacking in transparency, communication

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | FEBRUARY 07, 2012 7:20 AM

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Listed last on the University of Iowa Student Government's platform for the school year is "Communication and Transparency." Three bullet-points were filed under the subtitle: "All legislation online; Regular Tweets and [Facebook] updates; IMU renovation."

The members' enthusiasm for communication and transparency, though, appears to have waned substantially since Nov. 1. No comprehensive meetings notes have been published since that date. The organization's Twitter has been inactive since that date. Its Facebook hasn't posted since April last year.

Of all the group's goals, which included expanding the U-Bill downtown and expanding student-transportation options, transparency seems like a gimme in comparison. Unfortunately, the members haven't followed through.

Public transparency should be a top priority of all forms of government. The current UISG administration must set the precedent for future student governments by stressing the importance of communication of transparency for the rest of its tenure.

This past year, UISG budgeted more than $144,000 for a number of activities. To the UISG's credit, it employs a rather rigid set of standards that any activity must comply with before receiving UISG funding. Moreover, it is worth noting that the UISG has made strides (though insufficient) to improve access to information concerning the day-to-day goings-on of the UISG, a point made by Speaker of the Senate Nicholas Pottebaum.

"You can see everything from what was proposed at each meeting to what was passed," he said. "… In addition, if there were presentations at those meetings, those presentations are put up as PDFs. So, if you go to the legislative calendar, you can see every meeting."

According to the calendar available on UISG's website, the Senate has met six times and there have been 12 committee meetings. Links are available to review "meeting notes" for the former, and no information has been provided concerning any of the latter. Each link to the "meeting notes" consists of a brief outline and sometimes provides another link to a comprehensive PDF of everything considered and presented during the meeting.

These comprehensive agendas, however, are only available for half of the meetings. None have been uploaded since Nov. 1. A footnote at the bottom of the Nov. 15 meeting page reads, "Meeting Agenda, Legislation, and Notes to be posted shortly."

"We are always transparent," said UISG Vice President Brittany Caplin. "We are always willing to give out the information … We rely on the media. We rely on, and are open with, the beat reporter for [The Daily Iowan]."

With that, credit must be given where credit is due. The UISG holds meetings that are open to the public. It willingly responds to media outlets and constituents who have questions or concerns. In many ways, the UISG has gone 80 percent of the way to informing the public fully of how it conducts business.

So why not go one step further? Why not simply go the last 20 percent, and eliminate the need for the public to coerce information from the UISG? Why can't students simply go online and access data to inform them of how much money the UISG is allocating to what? Why has it stopped posting those fantastically detailed meeting agendas online? Why has it seemingly lost interest in social media?

It appears that the answer is that it would require the UISG to invest additional time and energy beyond what the members are currently doing to provide this information. To some degree, this is understandable. Aggregating information is tedious work, and consolidating it in a way that would make it accessible and easy to understand would likely require a significant amount of time and energy. However, that is exactly why the UISG should aggregate, consolidate, and distribute this information. Otherwise, every time students want to know how the UISG is spending money, they have to set out on a long and costly journey rounding up diffuse and disparate data that likely make absolutely no sense out of context.

Part of transparency is accessibility of information. As it currently stands, the specific information concerning what groups, what programs, and what activities are receiving how much money is anything but readily accessible public information. This is the direct consequence of a failure on the part of the UISG to invest fully in implementing transparency focused reforms. Until the organization is willing to make information concerning its budget and how it is allocating funds more accessible, it is highly likely that it will witness a further erosion of public trust and with it, its legitimacy as a representative institution.

Everyone has a vested interest here. If the UISG is fully transparent about how it allocates its budget, then students will be better able to hold their elected representatives accountable.

The members will also have successfully fulfilled a fundamental point of their aggressive platform.


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