CSU’s lack of transparency reaches the highest level, but it’s a simple fix

Erin Douglas

Editor’s Note: Letters from the editor do not represent a stance taken by all Collegian employees, and are instead a stance taken by the Editor-in-Chief. Erin Douglas is the Editor-in-Chief of the Collegian and has covered CSU Board of Governors meetings since 2015. 

A conversation about Colorado State University’s future at the highest university level happened this past weekend — 173 miles from Fort Collins.

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CSU’s Board of Governors convened Thursday and Friday at the CSU Pueblo campus to discuss, among other topics, the Hughes Stadium property, the on-campus stadium’s projected income statement, political tension surrounding free speech and a possible tuition increase.

The board’s six yearly meetings rotate locations between Denver, Fort Collins and Pueblo. While it’s reasonable to allow each campus part of the CSU System to have the spotlight, the location changes only further an already frustrating lack of transparency by CSU. Materials for these meetings are not available ahead of time, either for the public or the press. Agendas and meeting announcements are posted online a few days prior, but definitely not advertised – perhaps this is why no one is ever present for public comment. Meetings are not recorded, except by minutes that are only posted days afterward. 

So, the location wouldn’t be an issue if the University made the on-average-400-page binder of board materials public ahead of time. It wouldn’t be an issue if the university live-streamed the meetings. And, I would be less inclined to make this an issue if my publication and I had not been requesting these very simple accommodations for (at least) three years.

The lack of accessibility is hardly surprising. Public meetings, in any context or organization, are notoriously not very public. Often times journalists go through training to navigate the obstacles. The much-coveted binder, full of important data, graphs, maps and explanations of board decisions, is only available for press use during meetings because a Coloradoan reporter requested it (or, more accurately, demanded it with annoying questions) a few years ago. But, we’re still not allowed to see the materials prior to the meeting, and there is only one binder on the press table to share. Could someone at least digitalize it at the time of the board meeting?

Though CSU is not technically breaking Colorado sunshine law rules that govern public meetings, they are certainly making it difficult for journalists to do their jobs. When I’ve asked for the materials, the typical response is that board materials are not official until the board votes to approve them after the meeting. Understandable, but the University could easily make these materials available under an embargo so that The Coloradoan and The Collegian aren’t trying to quietly sift through hundreds of pages of information in the same binder at the same time while the meeting is in session.

As for the location, it would be quite simple to live stream meetings, therefore making them accessible to not just journalists, but to CSU professors, alumni, students or parents interested in watching. It might be naïve to claim that hundreds of students would anxiously tune in, waiting to watch public business be discussed. But as it currently stands, if anyone did want to speak during public comment or watch the meeting in real time, they are likely looking at a long drive and two days of work or class missed.

All of this might sound like a Journalist RantTM, inapplicable to the students I’m here to serve, but I promise this affects all of you, too. When our reporters are not able to have time to look at information prior to the meeting, it affects our ability to ask questions in the students’ interest. It affects our ability to write detailed and contextual stories. Thus, it affects your ability to know what the university is deciding to do with your $12,000-$27,000 per year.

It doesn’t need to be like this. Fort Collins’ City Council, bless their hearts, live streams meetings, makes meeting materials available ahead of time and holds meetings Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m., long after a normal workday. For student reporters, not having to miss class to do our jobs is a breath of fresh air.

I’ll be the first to admit that The Collegian should make more of an effort to be an unwavering presence at the Board of Governors’ meetings. But how can we? Meetings are scheduled from about 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on weekdays, materials are not released physically or digitally ahead of time and meetings are not recorded unless we’re there to do the recording. Student reporters have class and many don’t have cars. Last weekend, I took two days off school and drove a grand total of six hours and 346 miles to get information that could have been obtained with a simple PDF and an iPhone. As a land-grant institution responsible to the public, CSU can and should do better.

Collegian Editor-in-Chief Erin Douglas can be reached at editor@collegian.com or on Twitter @erinmdouglas23.

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