Cautiously optimistic about UI transparency


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At Wednesday’s meeting of the state Board of Regents, the regents approved a plan to create a new nine-person commission to monitor transparency at the state schools.

The plan was conceived by Regent President Craig Lang, who said he wants to bring the transparency policies at Iowa’s public universities into line with the state’s updated “Sunshine Laws,” which guarantee public access to government documents. Documents kept by public universities fall under the purview of these laws.

Introducing the measure, Regent Bruce Rastetter said the Transparency Task Force will “develop recommendations for the regents, with public input, on ways to create and maintain transparency at the Regent institutions.”

The task  force will be made up of two legislators, one representative from each of the state universities, as well as individuals representing the Governor’s Office, the regents, and the public.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board supports the creation of the Transparency Task Force in light of recent concerns at the University of Iowa about the openness of President Sally Mason and her administration, but it recognizes that more needs to be done internally to achieve true transparency.

Late last year, the administration came under fire for its lack of transparency in handling two-consecutive controversies — the resignation of Peter Gray, an Athletics Department adviser accused of sexual harassment, and the abrupt departure of seven faculty members from a College of Education Advisory Committee and the dean of the College of Education’s resignation. Particularly with respect to her handling of the Gray incident, Mason faced a great deal of criticism not only from this paper’s Editorial Board, but from Regents and Gov. Terry Branstad.

The inadequacy of the administration’s crisis communication became all the more troubling when the public learned in early December that the regents had declined to renew Mason’s contract in August 2012, citing her administration’s poor communication as one reason for the decision.

The Transparency Task Force will certainly be helpful in opening up the university’s operations, but any true shift toward openness will also require a change in the administrative culture at the UI. Too often, the university’s administrators have disregarded the public’s right to know about the internal workings of public institutions. Lately, the defining characteristic of Mason’s administration has been its opacity.

There is some reason to believe that a change may be taking place, however.

UI officials have been quoted in favor of the regents’ decisions, particularly the new task force.

“I think it will be beneficial for the institution,” said Mark Braun, the interim vice president for Strategic Communication, in a previous interview with the DI. “I look forward to seeing what the task force comes up with. I think this is a worthy endeavor.”

These words have also been met with action from the university. On Wednesday, the university finally presented the results of its internal audit of a wide spectrum of colleges. The report found that the allegations against Gray were handled through the appropriate channels and that the athletics department was fully compliant with the required sexual harassment training.

Rastetter said the regents “were very pleased with the results of the audit.”

The pressure the regents placed on Mason and her team was undoubtedly instrumental in beginning the UI’s glasnost, and we expect the new Transparency Task Force to further improve the situation.

No improvement to the university’s communications will be complete without a full commitment from Mason.

There are some positive early indicators that are grounds for guarded optimism, but the extent to which Mason and the administration will commit to transparency remains to be seen.

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