For weeks, a reporter for The Kansas City Star worked to obtain an interview with an official with the school’s Student Involvement and Leadership Center. The newspaper was working on a story about fraternities on the campus.
Eventually, the university provided a written statement — but no in-person discussion. The staff member involved in Greek system oversight “doesn’t have time for an interview,” the reporter was told.
In isolation, this attitude would be concerning. Problems with the university’s fraternity system are of interest to every Kansan, and a fully transparent interview would have aided the state’s understanding of those problems.
Surely, in a month, the person tasked with oversight of the Greek system at KU could have found 20 minutes to talk.
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But the episode becomes more worrisome when stacked against other efforts by the university to keep its business private.
In July, we filed an open records request with KU, asking for emails, notes and other paperwork involving the controversy surrounding a black-spattered U.S. flag then on display as a piece of art. We wanted to know what the chancellor, the Board of Regents and the university’s public relations team talked about during the three days of the flare-up.
The university responded 19 days later — not with the documents, but with a request for more than $2,600 to see if the paperwork even existed. The fee included 22 hours of “manager time” — at $65 an hour — and 35 hours of “staff time.”
This from a public university funded by public tax dollars. Other state residents report similar demands for cash when they seek information from KU.
Earlier this year, The Lawrence Journal-World filed an open records request with Kansas Athletics, seeking to better understand the relationship between the basketball team and the shoe company Adidas. Denied.
In July, The Star requested subpoenas issued to the school as part of an FBI investigation into the scandal. The newspaper got the documents, but only after an initial refusal to disclose them.
The school, one employee told us, increasingly acts as if it is a private corporation, not a public institution. That isn’t acceptable.
The university’s news media relations staff says it has communicated with the press and public. It sent us links to various official statements from chancellor Douglas Girod concerning the Greek system, claiming interviews can be “difficult to schedule.”
For reporters and the public, perhaps that’s true. So we’d ask the Kansas Legislature to invite the chancellor and other officials to testify next year, in open session, before the state agrees to spend any more taxpayer money on the school.
Lawmakers could ask about shoe deals and flag controversies and Greek misbehavior and discrimination settlements. The university could explain why it thinks Kansans should be kept in the dark about any of these issues. It could also explain why it charges outrageous fees for documents that belong to the public.
We’re guessing KU’s leadership would find time in their busy schedules to answer those questions.