Crimson White Issues Open (Records) Challenge to Alabama Officials

The Crimson White is screaming for information. The student newspaper at the University of Alabama has launched a new page on its website offering a detailed rundown of all its open records requests starting this semester.

Why? Because, according to CW editors, “[q]uietly requesting information and only hoping to get that information as we have done in the past will no longer satisfy our role as a watchdog of this campus and community.”

Specifically, the paper’s louder and more transparent request rabble-rousing is in response to UA officials who, it seems, have been at best detached and at worst obstructionist to the CW’s truth-seeking.

A prime example occurred in fall 2012 after the resignation of a UA president who had served in the position for only two months. As part of their reporting at the time, CW editors requested info on what was spent to furnish the prez’s home during his short reign and also what was said via email between the prez and some of his peeps. The school’s reply: “The university has no public records that are responsive to your request.” Umm, OK? So the guy’s home and email inbox were barren? (No wonder he bailed!)

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According to the paper, that unresponsiveness was an early warning sign of an emerging “troubling mentality among the leadership on campus that disagreement and confrontation are things to fear.”

As editors write in an editorial announcing the creation of the open records database:

“The university has become a brand, protected by a tight grip on information and a reliance on the student body’s compliance. What has resulted is a calamity of the intellectual possibilities on a college campus. In the past, controversial speakers have visited the University, providing students with a variety of opinions and thoughts to shape their own ideologies they would later take out into the world. Now, we no longer have commencement speakers, and any demonstration a student may want to organize must first be approved well in advance by administrators. … A culture has been created that discourages questioning and open debate, and students leave campus often blindly following what they are told, accepting the status quo without question.”

The CW’s new database is an attempt to upend that status quo — not only seeking answers from UA admins but also showing readers the questions being asked along the way. So far this semester, editors have filed two requests — for travel expenses related to an SEC conference some university staff attended and for the names of applicants seeking a high-level administrative position. The latter is, at the moment, still pending.

Bottom line, it’s an open (records) challenge of sorts. What the Crimson White is essentially telling “the leadership on campus”: The information about how we do business is out in the open for all to see. Is yours?

Related

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