Maddening middleman

After weeks of going through different administrators and offices, the Torch was finally able to get information of previous elections and presidents after sitting down with Andrew Kalinowski and Carman Plank of student government. Photo By: Eric Trandel | Photo Editor

After weeks of going through different administrators and offices, the Torch was finally able to get information of previous elections and presidents after sitting down with Andrew Kalinowski and Carman Plank of student government.
Photo By: Eric Trandel | Photo Editor

Ideally, the middleman exists to make things run smoothly, but sometimes he messes everything up.

In the case of the student government presidential election results, the middleman, known here as the administration, can be thanked for the latter.

Prior to Thanksgiving break, Torch staff members met with representatives from the student government executive board, including incoming-President Andrew Kalinowski, to discuss the relationship between the two organizations. Director of Public Relations Carman Plank suggested the meeting.

It wasn’t long before the election results and subsequent Freedom of Information Act request were brought up.

Kalinowski, who will be taking over for Erin Williams, started the conversation by thanking the Torch for its coverage of student government. He recognized the importance of a newspaper on a college campus, especially when it comes to informing students about the activities of high-profile organizations like the one he soon will be leading.

After establishing his appreciation, Kalinowski said because student government and the Torch both strive to serve the students, it only makes sense for our organizations to have a working relationship. He promised openness and transparency from that point forward.

In the spirit of our new working relationship, I asked Kalinowski and Plank, who was also present, if they had ever seen the FOIA response the Torch had received from Vice President and General Counsel Miles Postema—the middleman. Because the names of the presidential candidates had been redacted (in order to adhere to FERPA, according to Postema), the Torch was still unable to report the election results.

Kalinowski and Plank, whom had never seen the response prior to it being sent to the Torch, said they couldn’t understand why the names had been redacted. Postema had asked Plank to compile the information the Torch was asking for and said he would handle the situation from that point forward.

Surprised that student government had been so unceremoniously cut out of the loop, I explained to Kalinowski and Plank that the Torch needed the candidates’ names in order to report the results. So, right then and there, they told the reporter working on the story who the past five student government presidents had been.

At last, eight months after the Torch’s initial request, we finally had answers.

So, if getting the answers was as simple as a half hour chat in SRC 102, what took so long for this to happen? The answer: the middleman.

From the beginning, the administration has overcomplicated this situation. The Torch tried to talk to everyone from deans to directors to vice presidents. We were even forced to appeal to Ferris President David Eisler.

The Torch contacted administrator after administrator and got nowhere.

Yet, as soon as the Torch sat in a room with student government representatives, we were able to get the answers we needed to inform readers.

Of the three parties involved in this situation—the Torch, student government and the university—it appears only two are fulfilling their promise to serve students.

  • Erin

    I would like to state that it is the right of the past and present Student Government president’s and people who choose to participate in the election to have privacy. Legally, the Unviersity is not allowed to reveal any names. This goes against FERPA unless those candidates sign a FERPA form. Any names that were given to you, were not given under appropriate circumstances. It would be illegal for any names to be released without the signatures on FERPA forms from those set people.

    • Alex Wittman, Editor-in-Chief

      Erin,

      First, thank you for your comment. The Torch always appreciates input from our readers. Newspapers greatly value the relationship with the people it strives to serve.

      In response to your comment, it is evident that a clear definition of FERPA is necessary. Perhaps a better understanding will allow us to move forward.

      FERPA, or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, protects the confidentiality of records–not facts. If information about an elected official comes from a source other than an educational source (for instance, student government election results), then that information is not FERPA-protected. Such information does not qualify as confidential education information, which is what FERPA was written to protect.

      Contrary to what you have been told, the university is not bound by any law to withhold the names of past student government presidents. When a student runs for the highest-profile office on campus, the student implicitly waives a degree of privacy in exchange for accountability with the people the official was elected to serve. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for FERPA to be misunderstood and, ultimately, misused on college campuses.

      Once again, I’d like to thank Andrew Kalinowski and Carman Plank for their willingness to cooperate with the Torch. With their help, we were able to, at last, provide the student body with vital information. Serving the students seems to very much be the “appropriate circumstances” under which to disclose such information.

      Once again, thank you for your interest in the Torch.

      Sincerely,

      Alex Wittman
      Torch Editor-in-Chief