No court or federal agency has ever deemed parking tickets racked up by college students to be “educational records” protected by privacy laws.
But when student journalists at the University of Oklahoma sought parking-ticket data from their school – to determine whether student-athletes or other VIPs were getting their tickets fixed – the university refused their request, insisting the records were covered by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. That stance is at odds with rulings issued by courts in two other states, as well as the practice at at least one other public university: UConn, which provided that very data to the Courant several years ago without a fight.
Open-records experts say the reporters at the Oklahoma Daily would likely win if they took their school to court. But that could cost tens of thousands of dollars. So what are student journalists to do? Enter FOIA Shaming, a new project from the Student Press Law Center designed to needle public officials who withhold public records on flimsy grounds.
There’s the University of Maryland, which refused for more than a year to produce records showing disciplinary actions taken against students found to have committed sexual assaults on campus.
And the University System of Georgia, which tried charging a student paper nearly $3,000 to fulfill a Freedom of Information Act request. After 140 days – and the intervention of a private lawyer – the school system cut the bill by 90 percent.
The launch of the blog site corresponds with Sunshine Week, held annually around the birth date of James Madison, an early champion of open government, who semi-famously declared: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
Know some shame-worthy public-records behavior at your school? The Student Press Law Center is inviting submissions for the blog here.
Connecticut Public Television lost its lucrative deal last month to broadcast the UConn women’s basketball games, a gut-punch that left worried employees moping in the hallways, CEO Jerry Franklin told the Connecticut Post. It also has observers wondering about the finances of parent organization Connecticut Public Broadcasting, which operates CPTV along with WNPR, the state’s public-radio station.
Once a blip on the airwaves, CPBN has grown into a $20 million-a-year operation, and the membership dues and corporate sponsorships spawned by the UConn deal were major drivers. That money is now in jeopardy, even as CPBN is moving ahead with some aggressive — and potentially risky — expansion plans. Most notably, the network has a multimillion-dollar deal to develop lab space at its Asylum Hill headquarters for the Hartford school system’s Journalism and Media Academy. While officials believe the partnership will eventually pay off, Franklin has said CPBN may have to take out a bank loan if the network is unable to raise enough upfront money.
The station has also faced the loss of recurring state aid for operating expenses, although it did receive a $1 million state grant for transmission and broadcast equipment last year, and underwriting contracts with the Department of Public Health provided $450,000 more.
And if all that weren’t enough financial plates for Franklin to keep spinning, a union leader and members of the Connecticut Citizens Action Group picketed the station Tuesday in advance of a board meeting, protesting the recent layoff of three television production workers and a fourth employee who worked on the network’s website. The small band of activists held six signs — half of which took direct aim at Franklin’s salary.
Meg Sakellarides, CPBN’s chief financial officer, said the network has requested a meeting with union officials to discuss alternatives to the layoffs. “CPTV has a stronger than ever commitment to local programming. However, funding for much of it is still speculative. It would be irresponsible to maintain fixed costs that cannot be covered by confirmed revenues,” Sakellarides said in a statement. “If the planned layoffs cannot be avoided, CPTV’s collective bargaining agreement allows for workers to be recalled as funding is secured and that would be our hope.”
In the statement, Sakellarides also noted that “cuts and sacrifices are being made across the board with many senior managers doubling up and assuming the responsibilities of managers who have left but have not been replaced.”
To see how Connecticut Public Broadcasting fared in the last fiscal year, click the summary chart below to access our Charity Check report, which provides background on the organization and details on its revenue and expenses.
One-time UConn basketball hero Tate George has been indicted on charges of running a Ponzi scheme that collected $2 million from investors to fund real-estate development projects that allegedly never existed.
Among the allegations: that George “used a portion of investors’ monies to fund home improvement projects on his personal residence and to pay his day-to-day living expenses, such as meals at restaurants, clothing, and gas.” Other money allegedly went toward mortgage payments and child support to his ex-wife.
After UConn, George played in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks and the New Jersey Nets. In 2000, he registered “The George Group” with the Connecticut Secretary of the State’s office, though the operation was based in New Jersey. Federal authorities say that from 2005 to 2001, George presented the outfit as a legitimate real-estate development firm, collecting cash from a variety of investors, including professional athletes. But they allege the firm actually had “virtually no income-generating operations at all.”
And watch George’s buzzer-beater here:
Michael Hogan, who left a tumultuous stint as president of the University of Connecticut to take the same post at the University of Illinois, has resigned after less than two years on the job, the Chicago Tribune is reporting.
Hogan’s departure come in the midst of a high-profile battle with faculty members, spawned by a bizarre episode in which his chief of staff, Lisa Troyer, was accused of pretending to a be a faculty senator in a series of emails sent to faculty members. Troyer, who also worked for Hogan at UConn, resigned in January. The Tribune reported that Troyer denied writing the emails, but that an outside investigation determined she was the likely author.
Hogan had been at UConn about 2½ years when he was hired by Illinois in May 2010. He will remain in office until July.