Opinion

Temple among nominees for Golden Padlock Award

Pennsylvania’s state-related universities, which includes Temple, are finalists in a contest recognizing an institutional lack of transparency.

In May, editors from The Temple News nominated Temple and Pennsylvania’s other state-related universities for the Golden Padlock Award.

Every year, Investigative Reporters and Editors, an international organization dedicated to supporting investigative journalism, names finalists for this award, which is given to the “most secretive publicly funded agency or person in the United States.”

Temple and Pennsylvania’s other state-related universities — University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State University and Lincoln University — were named finalists.

Last year, The Temple News’ editors tried to obtain information from members of the Board of Trustees — who also serve as government officials — about how former University President Neil Theobald was fired, but we were denied. We also tried to obtain a list of conflicts of interest from each trustee, which is disclosed to the university, but not to the public. Again, we were denied.

Temple’s denials cited Pennsylvania’s limited Right To Know Law, which is one of the worst in the country. The law is supposed to give people access to information about publicly funded institutions. But the law somehow overlooks Temple and other state-related universities, allowing them to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding without any real level of accountability.

In frustration, our editors filled out the IRE nomination.

And now Temple and the three other universities are finalists, among people and organizations like Scott Pruitt, who heads the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

The Temple News wants our university to understand this is not an attempt to shame any individual who has denied us information, because under law, they didn’t have to provide it.

This is to shame the law itself for its minimal coverage, which allows state-related universities like Temple to withhold important information from the very students they serve.

While researching how other student newspapers have encountered the Right To Know Law, we learned we were not alone in our struggle or frustration.

At The Pitt News, their reporters and editors couldn’t get a list of the officers who serve on the university’s police force, which is the third largest in the county. Nor could they get information on whether several wrestlers used university money to hire escorts while away for a tournament — all because Pennsylvania’s Right To Know Law said the university doesn’t have to.

At Penn State, officials denied the Associated Press information on Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky and other Penn State leaders were embroiled in a child sex abuse case that included university efforts to cover it up.

This law allows these universities to hide so much information from the public — often about money, safety and corruption.

Perhaps this award will galvanize state lawmakers into reforming the law. We hope university leaders don’t try to stop them, because after all, there’s nothing to hide, right?

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