Monday, September 16, 2013

Getting answers from Oakland University

If you’ve ever listened to “Car Talk” on National Public Radio you know that the hosts often speak apologetically — though humorously — about their NPR connection. They are trying to placate their conservative audience.

Some conservatives are critical of NPR because it receives federal funding. Conservatives get government support too, whether in the form of tax breaks or benefits, but there is no point in trying to be too logical about that today.

No, today we address another object of conservative scorn — the American Civil Liberties Union.

The context is Oakland University’s reluctance to embrace transparency.

Two Oakland Press journalists, Paul Kampe and Megan Semeraz, have courageously taken on this behemoth as they have sought explanations behind the firing of women’s basketball Coach Beckie Francis.  They have been stonewalled by OU officials hiding behind false assertions of about what the public is entitled to see under Michigan’s Freedom of Information laws.

FOI laws vary from state to state, and are administered differently as well. The problem is not Michigan’s law, but how it is enforced, or, rather, not enforced. Practically speaking, the only way you can force an entity like OU to comply with the law is to take it to court.  The problem with that is that no media lawyer worth his or her salt can take the case because they all do work for OU and, thus, have a conflict of interest.

Now OU is trying to muzzle its students.

A condition of the school’s student-athlete handbook stipulates student-athletes not speak with the media without the prior consent of the Athletic Communications Department. Journalists Kampe and Semeraz have been prevented from speaking with current players since Francis’s firing June 12.

That is where the ACLU enters the picture. It has sent OU  has sent a letter asking the school to discontinue its practice of preventing student-athletes from discussing their treatment under  Francis.

Thank God for the ACLU. Conservatives can gripe all they want to but without the ACLU in this case, the public is hopelessly shut out. If the ACLU didn’t stand up to a government institution in this case, no one else could.

Maybe there is no groundswell among the public demanding the information about Ex-Coach Francis, but OU is a tax-supported institution. If the public doesn’t care how its money is spent, that bodes ill for our nation’s future. Fortunately, some people still do care.

Government at all levels suppresses information. If the public doesn’t stand up and demand the government it wants, it will get the government it deserves.

None of this is to disparage OU as the great institution it is. But as Lord Acton said: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

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