The term “transparency” is beyond a buzzword. It gets tossed around way more than it should — transparency this, transparency that. The problem is I’ve never understood why people make such a big deal about transparency. No, I’m not an advocate of extreme secrecy or anything of the like. Rather, I don’t understand why “being transparent” should be such a selling point for new leadership in the public sector — for example, President Barack Obama promising greater government transparency back in 2008 before he was elected.

Derek Wolfe

Shouldn’t it be a fundamental element of basically every public institution?

What got me thinking about this again was Sunday’s episode of “Last Week Tonight,” hosted by John Oliver. Oliver ran a five-and-a-half-minute segment on the fact that the Supreme Court does not allow television cameras during oral arguments. Besides creating an elaborate and adorable setup of dogs dressed in judicial robes to play over the audio of Supreme Court proceedings, the segments brought to mind an important point. When it’s so easy to bring in cameras and be a little more transparent, then why go through the hassle of explaining why you don’t do it? Because it seems to me that many scandals occur or grow larger than they should solely because of a refusal to be transparent and open about what you’re doing.

Case in point, the University of Michigan Athletic Department. While already covered extensively by The Michigan Daily and needs no further explaining, the communication after the Shane Morris incident was despicable. Why on earth would they release a statement at 1 a.m.? I don’t care how many hands it went through. It appeared that the department was attempting to avoid backlash by posting a release in the middle of the night.

That being said, this all could have been prevented, or at least slightly alleviated, with some transparency. If it’s really taking so long to write a statement, then consider releasing an update earlier in the evening stating something along the lines of, We’re in the process of composing a statement. We apologize for the amount of time this is taking and expect it to be completed within the next couple of hours.

Simply explaining where you are in a process would go a long way. And it appears that the Athletic Department may be learning its lesson, showing a minor sign of improvement with last Thursday’s announcement of lower football ticket prices next season. Without even providing specific details, just by saying the price will be lower shines light into their operations and comforts the consumer. Was that so hard, Dave Brandon?

The University’s Medical School is perhaps the most transparent organization in the University system, specifically with their admissions process. The admissions department is constantly updating their admission statistics with information such as how many interviews and admissions have been offered as well as the average GPA and average MCAT scores of the incoming class to this point. While I’m not applying to the University Medical School this cycle, I would posit that this openness is highly appreciated by applicants and works to prevent any public relations issues that could arise.

The only problem is that this appears to be an anomaly at the University, at least from an administrative angle. Lack of transparency is an institutional problem. The high cost and time it takes to acquire documents through the University’s Freedom of Information Act Office tells you all you need to know about the University’s attitude toward transparency.

Most of all, it displays a sort of arrogance among University leadership that is concerning. It says to the public that they’re not worthy of knowing certain information that isn’t even detrimental. It’s difficult to want to associate myself with leaders who feel that way about the people they work for.

Besides the ticket price announcement, the first three months of University President Mark Schlissel’s tenure have been more of the same. I recognize that some things need to be kept under wraps, but that should be the minority of issues. There is an obligation to the people to educate them about what is happening at the University. And the more you share, the more of a chance you’re giving people to invest themselves in the University. Isn’t that what you want, a bigger brand, right?

What’s the big secret anyways? Because if you’re worried about us finding out that there actually isn’t a pot of gold under the Union, we already knew that.

Derek Wolfe can be reached at dewolfe@umich.edu

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