The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The Grind

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Post’s victory in a lawsuit against the university for public records is a victory not only for journalism, but also for students within the University of Wisconsin system.

In today’s media landscape, which is known for dedicating hours of airtime and gigabytes of bandwidth to Tiger Woods’ mistresses and Michael Jackson’s untimely death, it’s easy to forget the canons of journalism established by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and even Seymour Hersch and Nellie Bly before them.

Journalism serves to inform the public and has the great task of acting as the “fourth estate” in democracy in the United States. At a student level, the Post’s open-records lawsuit is inspiring to other aspiring journalists, but the students that the paper serves are the ones who really benefit from the freedom of information.

The paper’s victory comes after more than a year of legal battle, and almost $12,000 in legal fees. According to an Associated Press report, UW-Milwaukee has agreed to turn over minutes from the Student Union Board’s meeting and to cover the legal fees for the paper.

UW-Milwaukee responded to the open records request, the report states, but neglected to include student representatives who were present at the university meetings. The university cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act – which protects some student information from being released – as the reason for withholding the names.

Story continues below advertisement

But, according to the Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute, administrative functions, such as an elected student representative, does not necessarily qualify as “educational records.”

Transparency has certainly been a political buzzword lately, especially in the Obama administration, and politicians stress how they are going to be more open with the public. At the universities and institutions in Wisconsin, where tax dollars (although less and less) flow, it’s imperative to know just where those dollars are going and how the campus leaders are serving the students.

According to the UWM Post’s Web site, University Policy Board meetings are open to the public. Therefore, the minutes and names of students involved should also be open to the public. No member of the board is going to participate in the meetings anonymously, concealing their identity. If the public is invited to the meetings, they should also be privy to the records of such meetings.

For years, there has been a stigma that journalists are “out to get” public officials and that they seek pleasure in ousting elected officials from their cozy ivory towers. In my experience, it’s not so simple. Journalists are, indeed, curious individuals who care deeply about their communities and peers. Journalists do work hard to hold government officials accountable. No insult to community members, but journalists are often in sparse company at city council and board of education meetings. It’s the journalist’s job to be the “watchdog” for the public and to not accept information at face value.

It will now be up to the UWM Post to report on their newly acquired information responsibly and enthusiastically. The UWM Post deserved commendation for their persistence in seeking information to better serve the students of UW-Milwaukee. It’s impressive that, on top of classroom and personal obligations, the newspaper was able to pursue the proper channels to obtain this legal and relevant information.

The Grind is a weekly column. Taintor, The Spectator’s editorial editor, can be reached at [email protected]

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

The Spectator intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. The Spectator does not allow anonymous comments and requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
All The Spectator Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Activate Search
The Grind