A Sunshine Week Question: Why Are Evaluations of Public University Professors Kept Secret?

by Categorized: Education, Employment, Government, Law Enforcement, Media, Public Safety, Transparency/FOI, UConn Date:

I began teaching a journalism class at Central Connecticut State University this semester, with the taxpayers and students’ families picking up the tab for my modest salary. At some point, I imagine the school will evaluate my performance, and when that happens, it will be the official policy of the state legislature that it’s none of the taxpayers’ business whether I’m doing a great job or a crummy job.

If you teach in a public school in Connecticut, from Kindergarten to a Ph.D. program, state law deems that records of your “performance and evaluation” are off-limits to the public that pays your salary. I was given a stark reminder of that today, just as transparency advocates are wrapping up “Sunshine Week,” a national campaign highlighting the importance of open government.

Today happened to be the day I was provided with a large number of documents I had requested from the University of Connecticut, which included the draft of a review of Robert Miller, the former UConn music professor now under the microscope for allegations of sexual misconduct that spanned decades.

The evaluation runs 28 pages – 19 of which have been blacked out completely, and the rest of which have no more than a sentence or two visible. There is a list of “Dr. Miller’s Strengths” and another of “Dr. Miller’s Weaknesses” – but they have been almost entirely blacked out. There is a section marked “Comments from the Faculty” – immediately followed by a page and a half of black boxes. Under “PERSONALITY ISSUES,” the report notes that neither the review committee members nor those interviewed are trained psychologists, but the rest of section, taking up nearly two pages, is completely redacted.

This isn’t the university getting overly exuberant with a magic marker; it’s just following the law.

As I’ve written before, a move to keep teacher evaluations secret began 30 years, resulting in the passage of a law titled “Nondisclosure of records of teacher performance and evaluation,” which made teacher evaluations in local public schools exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Legislators were persuaded that parents would use evaluations to shop for the best teachers and pressure schools to place their children accordingly – though every parent I’ve ever talked to already knows who the great teachers are in their schools.

And even while the bill was pitched as a way to prevent teacher-shopping, the final language covered all professional staff in a public K-12 school except the superintendent. Assistant superintendents, principals, librarians – all covered by the law putting their performance evaluations off limits.

Before long, that sort of secrecy started looking good to those in higher education. And in 1989, a similar statute was put on the books blocking public access to performance records for the faculty and professional staff at UConn, the state university system and the state’s technical colleges.

And that’s why the document below is mostly black boxes.

Transparency advocates would like to change that. I’ll start with my eval. If and when CCSU gauges my performance, I’ll be happy to send a copy to anyone interested in reading it.

UConn-St. Joseph’s, Minute-by-Minute

by Categorized: Data, UConn Date:

For the first 40 minutes of UConn’s first match of the NCAA tournament Thursday night, the Huskies led St. Joseph’s barely 10 percent of time.

But they came back when it mattered, tying the game with 39 seconds left in regulation play, and dominating an overtime period in which they never trailed the Hawks, and pulled away for good in less than two minutes’ time. Below is a minute-by chart of the game, and a bubble chart showing points scored by players on each team.

UConn_StJosephs

Affidavits Tell Sad Tale of Collapse of Hurley Scholarship Foundation

by Categorized: Education, Government, Legal Affairs, Non-profits, Uncategorized Date:

The inevitable dissolution of the battered Doc Hurley Scholarship Foundation came a step closer Thursday with Judge Carl Schuman’s order barring the foundation from engaging in any official acts while he considers the fate of the once-revered scholarship fund.

On April 7, barring objection – and no objection has been registered so far – Schuman may formally eliminate the organization Walter “Doc” Hurley dreamed up four decades ago to help needy high school students reach their college dreams. The foundation – which held more than $1 million in assets seven years ago – is now penniless, and Hurley’s daughter, Muriel, is facing a civil suit brought by the attorney general accusing her of looting the charity.

The collapse of the Hurley foundation is on stark display in a series of affidavits filed by nine Hurley scholarship winners who didn’t receive the money they were promised. As part of the Courant’s investigation of the foundation, we tracked down more than a dozen winners who were shortchanged, and lawyers for the state then soon followed up.

Utsarga Bhattarai was awarded a $2,000 scholarship when he graduated from West Hartford’s Hall High School in 2008. But he said the money never came. “On multiple occasions, up and through my junior year of college, I contacted the Foundation through multiple telephone calls and e-mails, but never was contacted by the Foundation,” he wrote.

That sentiment is repeated over and over. “I sent multiple e-mails and made multiple telephone calls to the Foundation and left messages, but never received e-mails back or any return telephone calls,” wrote Alyssa Cusano, who received $500 of the $2,000 she was promised.

Brittany Cavaliere left phone and e-mail messages after her aid stopped. So did Jermaine Thomas and Amanda Trothier. And several other students. But they said they either received no response, or were assured that the scholarship money was on its way. But it never arrived.

The affidavits are included in the dissolution lawsuit merely to bolster the state’s case that the Hurley Foundation was no longer operating as a charitable organization and should be shut down. There is no means through that process to make the students whole.

State officials aren’t foreclosing the possibility of recovering assets that could be distributed to past scholarship winners. But the foundation’s bank accounts are empty, and finding any seizable assets is proving to be a difficult feat.

The students’ affidavits are below:

Malloy Opening Up the Data Mines

by Categorized: Data, Government, Transparency/FOI, Uncategorized Date:

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed an executive order today designed to take some of the massive piles of data held by the state and move them onto an easily accessible website where researchers can dive in.

“This data belongs to the people of Connecticut, and this initiative will help make that data more easily and conveniently accessible to them,” Malloy said, expressing a sentiment not always championed by government officials.

The executive order instructs the state’s executive agencies to identify a first round of datasets that will be made available on what is being dubbed the Connecticut Open Data Portal, at data.ct.gov. Agencies have been told to look for data that is reliable, already in electronic form, frequently requested by the public and free of confidential information.Malloy told the departments to also consider whether disclosure of the information would “improve agency accountability and efficiency, enhance public knowledge of the agency’s operations, or create economic innovation and opportunity.”

Agencies have 90 days to come up with that first list.

Tyler Kleykamp, who works for the Office of Policy and Management, will l lead the enterprise as Chief Data Officer (not to be confused with the television character “Data,” who was a chief officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise).

The initiative builds on the state’s transparency website, which already provides data in searchable and downloadable form on the state’s payroll, pension, contracts, grants and payments. And it’s part of a larger trend of freeing “big data” for analysis by researchers, journalists and business interests. States maintain enormous amounts of data on everything from health care spending to educational performance to highway safety. And more and more of it is seeping into the public domain.

“Timely and consistent publication of public information and data is an essential component of an open and effective government,” the executive order proclaims.

But as it moves to place that information online, the governor’s office also said it would safeguard private information, and said the initiative “does not apply to any protected data that, if disclosed, would violate state or federal law, would endanger the public health, safety or welfare, hinder the operation of government or impose an undue financial, operational or administrative burden on a state agency.”

The way officials interpret those parameters may determine just how public all that public information really will be.

Take That, Seattle – Part 2

by Categorized: Census, Data Date:

Last March, we published a map based on Census data showing migration in and out of Hartford County, including the curious finding that more people move every year from the Seattle area to Hartford County than from Hartford County to the Seattle area.

The Census Bureau this week came out with updated numbers, based on surveys conducted from 2007 to 2011, and that data again suggest the Nutmeg State has a strange lure for West Coast hipsters.

The Bureau estimates that 426 Connecticut residents load up the U-Haul and head to King County in Washington every year – while 885 people make the reverse move and leave King to set up house in our humble state.  (Of course, this data was captured before the Super Bowl.)

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Map of Minimum Wage Laws from Coast to Coast

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is proposing to boost the minimum wage in Connecticut to $10.10 in 2017, which could well make it the highest in the land, certainly topping Washington state’s current minimum of $9.32. (Connecticut’s current $8.70 minimum is the fourth-highest in the nation.)

The map below shows minimum wages from coast to coast. States in green have minimum wages that top the federal rate of $7.25. States in yellow match the federal rate. States in blue have minimums below the federal level (but are trumped by the feds). And states in red have no minimum-wage law.

Click on any state for details.

Governor Asks Connecticut: “What’s On Your Mind?” Answer: “Guns.”

by Categorized: Finance, Government, Politics, Public Safety Date:

Last fall, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy invited the public to chime in on state regulations that are “outdated, unnecessarily burdensome, insufficient or ineffective.” More than 2,000 comments came in to a special website.

And what was on people’s minds?

Guns. Specifically, handguns in state parks and forests.

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Charity Check: The National Football League

by Categorized: Charity Check Date:

You read that headline correctly.

The National Football League, the mega-moneyed organization behind this Sunday’s sports extravaganza, is eligible for The Scoop’s Charity Check feature as a bona fide, IRS-approved non-profit organization. It just happens to be one with a $30-million boss.

The NFL is not a traditional donor-funded 501(c)(3) charity – so no, your football tickets (and any other funds you might be inclined to give them) are not tax-deductible. But the organization with a $300 million budget – and that managed 32 team checkbooks that doled out more than $4 billion last year – is a tax-exempt non-profit, under 501(c)(6) of the tax code, which covers business leagues, chambers of commerce, real estate boards, boards of trade and, since 1966, “professional football leagues.”

Click the NFL logo below to read our report on the NFL’s latest tax filing, and the “Continue Reading” link to see the actual filing. And click here to view past Charity Checks.

Click here to read our Charity Check report Continue reading

When Winning Equals Losing at the Freedom of Information Commission

by Categorized: Government, Transparency/FOI, Uncategorized Date:

Wrenching a stack of public documents from a government agency that prefers to operate in secret can be a long and frustrating process, from the initial request for access, to the final hearing before the state’s Freedom of Information Commission.

But for requesters with the law on their side, the long trek typically ends with the satisfaction of finally holding that stack of documents.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

But at a hearing Thursday, the FOI Commission considered three separate cases in which it found that agencies should have released a variety of requested records – while simultaneously ruling that the Commission was powerless to do anything about it.

The culprit in each case: time.

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Why the Hike in Postage Rates Isn’t as Bad as You Think

by Categorized: Data, Finance, Government Date:

The price of a first-class stamp jumps to 49 cents next week – a three-cent hike – and many mailers undoubtedly will grouse that the cost of sending a letter is bumping up against the half-dollar mark.

But take heart: You’re still in way better shape than your great-great-great-great-grandparents.

Adjusted for inflation, mail prices actually have moved in a fairly narrow band for the last 150 years, as the chart below shows. But in the first half of the 19th Century, sending a Mother’s Day card or paying a credit card bill – wait, neither of those existed in the 1800s – was a far pricier affair.

For all but one year from 1792 to 1850, the minimum cost to send a letter to the next town or beyond topped the current equivalent of a dollar. Then, at mid-century, 5c1847the government worked to modernize postal service, including the introduction of the first authorized national postage stamps in 1847. Putting a Benjamin Franklin on your envelope would set you back 5 cents that year – but that’s the equivalent of about $1.41 today. (And mail sent beyond 300 miles would have cost great-great-great-great-grandpa Jebidiah twice that.)

With that modernization effort – and a booming nation with the attendant economies of scale – the cost of postage plummeted, and by 1864 the cost of a stamp was less than 50 cents in current dollars. Since then, the inflation-adjusted price has fluctuated from about 35 to 70 cents, and has ranged from 40 to 50 cents for the last three decades.

Still grousing? Run out and buy forever stamps. Until Sunday, they’re still 46 cents – and valid for postage even after the rate increase.

PostageRates