UT should learn from its mistakes and focus on transparency

We’ve been writing about the University for a year. We’ve looked at this school through a microscope — we’ve interviewed officials, students, professors. For a year, we’ve pushed for
improvements on this campus.  

UT has made progress in recent years, but some fundamental issues remain. Above all, UT needs to be more open with its students. 

Transparency isn’t a new problem. Previous editorial boards have written about lack of transparency for years. Last year, UT’s failure to notify students of professor Richard Morrisett’s domestic abuse prompted the editorial board to call for increased transparency about professor misconduct. In 2017 and 2015, the editorial board called for more open crisis communication from UTPD. 

We wrote about the University’s lack of transparency all year, spanning a variety of issues and departments. UT failed to notify students about associate professor Coleman Hutchison’s misconduct, even as they planned to put him in front of a classroom of undergraduates. A UT communications staffer erroneously stated that no misconduct was found. The editor-in-chief had to file a freedom of information act request to get official information about the incident. 

Even if you file a FOIA request, few of them go through. Most documents about professor misconduct contain private information that cannot be released, but UT could easily fix this by creating separate documents about misconduct. The existing system leaves the majority of professor misconduct completely hidden from students. 

After experiencing multiple roadblocks when trying to research Title IX on campus, we wrote about barriers student journalists encounter when working with UT Communications. The editorial board found it extremely difficult to receive important information about UT’s sexual assault policies. UT communications’ behavior creates a barrier between students and information they need. 

Lack of transparency is a problem across campus. We reported in April on how University Housing and Dining’s policies hinder resident assistants and student journalists from publicly expressing grievances. 

Hazing has plagued the University of Texas. After the suspension of UT’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter, Texan reporter Lisa Nhan wrote about the rise of Texas Rho and the horrific hazing which led to SAE’s fall. After junior Nicky Cumberland died in a car accident on the way home from a Texas Cowboys initiation retreat, Nhan revealed accusations of intense hazing at the retreat which eventually led to the suspension of Cowboys. Cowboys had been suspended in 1995 after a pledge drowned, but the organization returned to campus in 2000 and continued hazing. 

Despite all of this, UT refuses to release information on hazing incidents. The ed board called for UT to release details about organizations censured for hazing in January, but no progress has been made toward making more information publicly available. 

After a “disturbance” at the Texas Union in February prompted students to panic, our editor-in-chief called on UTPD to release information about on-campus incidents more quickly. This isn’t a new issue either. In 2015, the editorial board criticized UTPD for not alerting students of a bomb threat. After the on-campus murder of Harrison Brown in May 2017 caused widespread fear and confusion, the editorial board rebuked UTPD for taking half an hour to send students a text. UTPD has promised to improve, and all signs point to progress, but the need for increased transparency remains clear. 

This is an old problem, but the solution is the same. The University needs to be more open with its students about what happens behind the curtain. UT is a complex bureaucracy — 3,133 faculty, 51,832 students, a $31 billion dollar endowment — with lots of problems and a complicated network of proposed solutions. Just look at our opinion page for any day of this year — there are lots of things to fix at UT. 

One problem is easy to fix. By focusing more on being transparent, the University can improve the lives of students while focusing onr more complicated problems.

Be more open with us. Tell us what you’re planning. Tell us what we need to know. Nobody benefits when the University keeps information from its students. 

The editorial board is composed of associate editors Emily Caldwell, Angelica Lopez, Bella McWhorter and editor-in-chief Liza Anderson.