Open records for UW student government?

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Frankly, I don’t know why anybody in their right mind would care to look into the business of student government, but just in case any of you are crazy or bored enough to attempt, Patrick McEwen and Tom Templeton are looking after you. I ran into Patrick and Tom the other day. They were looking spiffy after their meeting with Rep. Mark Gottlieb, a Republican member of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities. They’d been discussing proposals to subject UW student governments to open records law. Gottlieb is the author of one such bill.

As Patrick noted, a point that has been raised in advocating for more transparency in student government is the situation at UW-Milwaukee, where members of the student council refused to release their minutes to the student newspaper. Nevertheless, there are legitimate reasons to be cautious in approaching the issue, according to McEwen. His position, which I support to a certain degree, is that although governing bodies, such as ASM and SSFC, should be subject to open records requests, not all GSSF groups should be. Patrick cited PAVE – a counseling session with a student should not be open to the public. That being said, I can’t imagine that being a problem – all kinds of reasonable exceptions exist in state government as well, although sometimes the Doyle administration attempts to expand “reasonable” to unreasonable degrees.

What do you think dear reader? Can you think of any exceptions or concerns that should be raised?

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9 Responses to “Open records for UW student government?”

  1. Lobby Visit with Rep. Mark Gottlieb (R-60) Says:

    […] As the Sconz has already pointed out, yesterday I met with Rep. Mark Gottlieb (R-60) about the legislation he is going to introduce that would require any body created by students at the University of Wisconsin System or the technical college system that has supervision or direction over the expenditure of revenues derived from mandatory student fees […]

  2. KB Says:

    Shoot me an email on this. The GSSF stuff is something Smathers and I discussed at great length a few months back, and if I had had some spare time this summer, something I would have fought to get open.

  3. Kyle Szarzynski Says:

    I haven’t seen the text of any of these proposals, but I can’t fathom a situation in which groups like PAVE or MCSC would be forced to release the details of their private meetings. They are not the student government, and I don’t really see any utility in treating them as such.

    With that said, there shouldn’t be much controversy in subjecting ASM to open record laws, though this is already the case in practice – anyone can request the minutes of these meetings already. How would what’s being proposed differ from the status quo?

    On the other hand, our student press has already shown itself willing to ignore bad behavior from members of political factions it likes, and manufacture claims of bad behavior from political factions it dislikes. In other words, forcing ASM to comply with any ethical standards is probably pointless so long as the most widely circulated campus paper continues operate bereft of basic journalistic fairness.

  4. The Sconz Says:

    “In other words, forcing ASM to comply with any ethical standards is probably pointless so long as the most widely circulated campus paper continues operate bereft of basic journalistic fairness.”

    Uh oh KB, are you gonna take that?

  5. Patrick Says:

    Subjecting GSSF groups to open records or meetings laws is not something that was ever the intent of the legislation. It’s just that until we were able to meet with Rep. Gottlieb we had no real way of know that. See my blog post on the WSL blog with some more detail about what our exact concerns were over the wording of the bill and some more details about the meeting.

    KB, I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at state opens records laws, but having recently glanced at the 89 page compliance guide put together by the AG’s office, I can assure you that forcing GSSF groups to comply would be incredibly burdensome and likely require each group to add a position exclusively for records keeping and compliance.

    Also, while this legislation would result in relatively little change for ASM from the status quo, it is not really aimed at changing anything here. The real motivation behind the legislation is UW-Milwaukee’s student government. It would probably result in some relatively minor changes to ASM, things like adding a position for someone to overseeing the filing and keeping of records and requiring more diligence on the part of committee chairs to do things like make sure there is public notice of the meeting 24 hours in advance.

  6. Kyle Szarzynski Says:

    “like adding a position for someone to overseeing the filing and keeping of records and requiring more diligence on the part of committee chairs to do things like make sure there is public notice of the meeting 24 hours in advance.”

    Even these “minor changes” would be unnecessary. The Secretaries of the SSFC and Council already handle the records and posting meetings 24 hours in advance is already required by ASM bylaws (I think). Granted, the laws aren’t always followed.

    And I don’t know who KB is, Sconz, but there is no need for a rebuttal – nor is possible to write a truthful one – to my last paragraph on my initial comment. Anyone who actually read the larger of the two papers last year, especially for those involved in ASM, is very aware of the disgraceful coverage of student government affairs last year – including cover-ups, lies, distortions, smears, etc. ad nauseum. For more details on this subject, feel free to visit Forward Thinking.

  7. Jason Smathers Says:

    I gotta side with Szarzynski on this one: I really don’t see why this is being made a big deal — I want to know dealings of GSSF’s with ASM and the doling out of money…and they have to have an inordinate amount of information presented to ASM saying what they’re going to spend, what events they’re spending it on, how many people have attended those events in the past, how the expenditures breakdown, etc. If this is actually going to open up each GSSF to further digging and exploration by folks like us, well, that’s nice, but I’m not sure it’s necessary. Especially if it causes concerns over FERPA (namely that these people will not be protected by it).

    As for UW-Milwaukee — isn’t this just a case where, if open records claims had been pushed far enough (Att. Gen Writ of Mandamus, law suit, etc.) UW-Milwaukee would be found to simply be openly flouting a law they should actually be following. (although it’s not explicitly outlined?) Or is there actually a thought that this process would lead to a legal opinion that student government is not subjected to open records? I mean, to me, this seems like codifying something that’s already common practice except by the lovely shady individuals at UW-Milwaukee.

  8. Jason Smathers Says:

    And I should make it clear: all the information they provide to ASM (GSSF groups) has been easily accessible by open records to us. Even taped meetings. So, again, I don’t see the need.

  9. Kurt Gosselin Says:

    Jason,

    There is some concern in the legal circles as to how far FERPA extends in relation to student governments. In one interpretation, the student government at an individual campus is viewed as an extension of the university and thus its records are covered under FERPA. In the other interpretation, the student government at a given institution is separate from the university, and thus the records are not covered under FERPA. Rep. Gottlieb’s bill will essentially legislatively enforce the 2nd of these two interpretations (at least until someone decides to take it to the court system).

    As for the concerns with this proposed legislation opening GSSF groups’ individual meetings and sessions to open meeting and records compliance regulations, the current language of “any body created by students…that has supervision or direction over the expenditure of revenues derived from mandatory student fees” leaves itself open to interpretation that could extend to organizations which receive segregated fees. Obviously, none of us want private counseling sessions or support groups to have to submit names of participants and keep their meetings open to everyone in the public in which case they would no longer take place in a “safe space.”

    ASM very well might have to hire a position for filing open records information. The standards required by open record laws are quite extensive (for further information consult the Wisconsin Justice Department’s 89 page memorandum on Open Records Compliance), and might require an hourly paid position within the student government as a records custodian. (This is similar in nature to a proposal that was made in ASM Constitution discussions as well as by a number of current ASM Council members who would like to see the Secretary position replaced by a clerk filled by a hire instead of by a current council member).

    And just to clarify, no one is making this a “big deal” right now. Rep. Gottlieb sent out a proposal that affects students and particularly student governments. WSL decided to investigate, consulted with university legal and ASM, met with Rep. Gottlieb to express opinions on the matter and a few concerns that have arisen in relation to statutory language, and we are currently tracking the issue for additional updates and working with ASM to ensure that this issue is present.

    For additional information, please refer to WSL’s blog post on the subject. blog.wistudentlobby.org

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