By Chris Grawey
I am writing with regard to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request that I made on November 1st, 2013. I made the FOI request to obtain information about the “Both Sides of the Brain” advertising campaign that has been ongoing for a number of years at the University. Brock is attempting to charge me $2,280 to release this information. I call on the Board of Trustees (BOT) to waive all applicable fees because the cost would cause me unnecessary financial hardship, as I am a full time student and part-time worker.
The information I am seeking is the annual budget for the Both Sides of the Brain campaign (2009/2010 to 2013/2014), including the cost for consultants, development and creative service contracts, collateral/material purchases, advertising buys, and all other expenses.
In December of 2013 the University responded, green-lighting the FOI request. However, the University estimated that the fee associated with the request would be approximately $3,000— a substantial cost to attain information. I will now outline why the BOT should waive the fee.
In the response to my FOI request, the University stated: “A budget specific to Both Sides of the Brain was not developed.” That statement reveals reckless decision-making and minimal oversight, during a time of alleged belt-tightening and seemingly permanent austerity on campus for students (rising tuition fees) and workers (increased workloads and loss of jobs). A campaign in which costs have surpassed $1 million must have a thorough budget outlining where the money has been spent, in order to demonstrate the campaigns effectiveness, or lack thereof. Therefore, annual budgets for the Both Sides of the Brain campaign should already be in existence, and easily accessible to any individual or group to review. It is the responsibility of the senior administration to ensure that their ‘house is in order.’
The University frequently employs rhetoric demanding transparency, accountability and openness. This is best exemplified with the Program Review, where every department and program will be reviewed meticulously. Furthermore, Brock’s Strategic Mandate Agreement states: “We are stewards of public and private resources and are accountable for our performance. We commit to provide sufficient information to allow informed evaluation of our performance by the Board of Trustees and the public at large.” Can these principles (accountability and informed evaluation) truly be upheld if a budget does not exist for the Both Sides of the Brain campaign? How can the University uphold these principles by charging exorbitant fees that create a substantial barrier to the students and workers that the University ostensibly serves?
After assessing the situation I thought it best to consult the University to attempt to negotiate a compromise beneficial to both parties. To that end, I narrowed the scope of my request in hopes of receiving a fee waiver. My compromise reduced the fee estimate from $3,000 to $2,280. This demonstrated my willingness to work constructively with the University, while the University remains committed to rejecting my fee waiver request.
With revenue well in excess of $200,000,000, the University can easily absorb the cost of the request. Waiving the fee would have no consequences, especially when considering the amount of spending occurring daily at the University.
The University asserts it is in financial trouble, yet a previous FOI request reveals that President Jack Lightstone is provided with a housing allowance of $1,250 per month ($15,000 per year), on top of his 2012 salary of $333,576.00! He also receives a fully equipped car, in the Buick price range every 3 years. All operating costs are paid by the University. Surely the University cannot legitimately argue that costs related to the FOI are too high when the University provides a monthly housing allowance to the President greater than some of Brock’s workers’ income!
Additionally, the research has the benefit of providing an analysis of the Both Sides of the Brain campaign that has not yet been conducted. The analysis can save costs if the data determines funds are not being spent appropriately. Those cost savings can then be passed on to students by improving our educational experience at the University.
If the BOT is truly committed to transparency, then I call on those individuals to waive the fee related to this FOI request. If the BOT chooses not to waive the fee, the University will be setting a dangerous precedent. Ultimately, this will damage the ability of the University’s broader community from holding Brock accountable to its own mandate.