New public records policy discussion sparks controversy at University Senate

University Senate was filled with tension as several hot issues were brought forth for discussion and voting, including the progression of the faculty union, the structure of the Intercollegiate Athletics [email protected]@[email protected]@, and the new public records fee policy Wednesday afternoon.

Interim president Robert Berdahl began by outlining how he believes the University is continuing to achieve excellence by citing examples of current awards and recognition being bestowed upon students and faculty alike.

In his address, the president also stressed that focusing on getting the University its own institutional board is something he believes in deeply and that he thinks it is important for the University’s future.

“There is nothing more important than achieving an institutional board for the University,” Berdahl said. “I think that it can be a potent factor in developing excellence in a university.”

He also spoke on the presidential search which he reported to be going smoothly. He said that the board is looking to appoint a new president in June who will start his or her duties on Sept. 15.

The IAC’s motion to add another student member to its representation was revisited after being sent to the committee during the last senate meeting. Berdahl spoke on the issue, saying that he would not approve any restructuring or changes to any committee in University Senate because he felt it inappropriate to do so as an interim president.

“All things being equal, you prefer to stay with the status quo,” Berdahl said. “I would not accept changes to any Senate committee during my interim presidency.”

Senators argued over the worth of adding one more student position and ultimately decided to not move the motion forward and denied it with a 7-13-3 vote.

The progress of the faculty union was also brought up in reports. Architecture professor Peter Keyes @@[email protected]@discussed the future of the union. He said that the organizers will start to survey its constituency to find out what everyone’s concerns and interests are in collective bargaining before drafting a constitution and bylaws.

Keyes also spoke on when faculty can start joining the union, explaining that there will be a membership drive in the fall to get faculty registered before bargaining begins.

President Berdahl expressed concern over the fact that bargaining would not be able to begin until after the fall. He criticized the union for perhaps “putting the horse before the cart,” to which Keyes replied that he sees no other way the organizers could have gone about establishing the union.

Toward the end of the meeting, Economics professor Bill [email protected]@[email protected]@ took the floor to bring up issues over the new public records fee policy ending the $200 fee waiver.

“This policy was changed without any notice to the Senate or the Senate Transparency Committee,” @@[email protected]@Harbaugh said. “I think the next step is for the Senate Transparency Committee to figure out why these changes were made in order to come back and give a recommendation to the Senate.”

Both Dave [email protected]@[email protected]@, senior assistant to the president, and Berdahl stepped up to clarify why the changes were made, stating that the $200 fee waiver implemented last fall had unforeseen consequences for some departments in dealing with these requests. Instead, the University will move to a one-hour increment policy, where if a records request can be filled within one hour of searching it will be free of charge.

Hubin explained that the changes will help simplify requests and to decipher which require more attention and need to be charged the fee. He and Berdahl attributed the change to various requests where different departments were forced to search for documents and lost valuable hours of time and manpower without any extra compensation.

Harbaugh argued that the policy should have at least been brought before the Senate Transparency Committee before being finalized. Berdahl replied that he felt the Senate Transparency Committee — made up of three senators and chaired by Harbaugh — was in a conflict of interest because Harbaugh has made so many records requests in the time the fee waiver was in place.

“The University has an obligation to recover the costs that these incur if those costs are substantial,” Berdahl said. “It is impossible to consult a committee where the chair of the committee has a fundamental conflict of interest that may be pretty apparent. I have discussed conflict of interest with Professor Harbaugh before, due to his many roles on committees and his blog that he uses to talk about the University.”

The Senate further discussed the implications of not having a committee for the administration to refer to. Hubin and Berdahl said that they would be open to review of this policy, but not by the Senate Transparency Committee.

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