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Editorial: Administration’s opaque communication with media threatens transparency

By Editorial Board

June 6, 2019 1:16 a.m.

Transparency isn’t a strong point for UCLA.

In fact, it’s a sore one.

For the second time in the past six quarters, Chancellor Gene Block bailed on his quarterly tradition of meeting with the Daily Bruin Editorial Board – essentially the only time he talks to reporters about the issues plaguing this campus.

Those 60 minutes are hard-fought: Daily Bruin editors engage in weeks of email correspondence with the administration and provide weekslong advance notice of the board’s areas of inquiries so Block can be briefed – as if a chancellor should need a crash course on their university.

These meetings have unearthed important insights about the campus. Just in the past year, the board learned how administrators misunderstand the state of campus mental health services, how the chancellor lost faith in the quarter system and how the university has taken a backseat in responding to sexual assault and sexual harassment among faculty and in Greek life.

All this just scratches the surface of what the UCLA community deserves to know.

Since its last meeting with the board, the administration has had a lot to answer for. The college admissions scandal broke just a day after the board’s meeting with administrators last quarter. The Los Angeles Times revealed that UCLA had admitted a track and field athlete in exchange for a $100,000 donation. The campus’ media relations apparatus sought to downplay the presence of a convicted sexual assaulter on campus. And the recent measles outbreak left students frustrated by the university’s boneheaded approach to crisis management.

Yet Block has ensured he will go six months without a direct conversation with reporters on any of these issues, including UCLA’s multiple admissions scandals. That last-minute cancellation is just one in a long series of bricks the university has been using to stonewall The Bruin and other media organizations.

UCLA refused to provide records requested by students and full-time reporters across California. On-campus housing officials haven’t responded for months about why they allegedly changed the On-Campus Housing Council constitution without consulting student representatives. The Center for Accessible Education refused multiple attempts for comment on why it no longer offers cash reimbursements for its lackluster note-taking services.

Media relations officials have even gone silent for straightforward requests, such as for how the university uses academic fees, including late course drop fees and late degree candidacy declaration fees.

This is the sorry state of transparency at the nation’s top public university.

Certainly, this might seem like an unwarranted criticism of a chancellor with only a handful of hours each quarter to spare for students’ questions. We get it: Chancellor Block is a busy man whose schedule is packed with things like cozying up to megadonors who can financially buoy UCLA.

But we’re not defending access journalism – rather, we’re lamenting that the chancellor has so little time for and interest in transparency to the entire campus community.

Royce Hall might be on UCLA’s centennial posters, but Murphy Hall is the face of the university. Dodging reporters for half a year isn’t just unbecoming of administrators, it’s begging people to ask what the university is so afraid to share about crucial issues regarding this institution.

In March, it was the admissions scandal. We’ll have to wait until September to find out what it is this time.

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