Open Secrets on Campus Part I: Show Me the Money

Open Secrets on Campus Part I: Show Me the Money

One of the statements that is shared in my Reporting II class is from Lord Northcliff: “News is something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is just advertising.”

When I read this quote, two thoughts come to my mind. One is that this explains why so much “news” these days is discounted, since it leans more toward promotion and less toward hard news. The second is for the urgent need for investigative journalism, both in our nation and here at Southwestern as a taught class.

For that’s the essence of Reporting III: investigative journalism. The idea is to ask questions that other people might not want asked, but we still need to know. Two years ago, the class took a look at Southwestern’s student association and asked the question: “Are officers truly representing the students who voted them in?” The project made some people uncomfortable, others interested, and many a lot more informed that they would have been otherwise.

This year, our topic began when we saw the claim that came from niche.com stating that Southwestern Adventist University was the safest campus in Texas and the #7 safest campus in the United States. Following the axiom of “skeptical, but not cynical,” we decided to investigate this further. As we looked into it, the story grew into something bigger and perhaps more important: the issue of transparency on campus. How much information is being shared with students? Are administrators, faculty and staff totally open and honest in their dealings with the student body?

The question is an important one, and before we were done, we interviewed more than a few students, as well as the university president, three vice presidents, the dean of men and dean of women, the director of human resources and the Keene chief of police.

The idea is to ask questions that other people might not want asked, but we still need to know.

As we compiled information (which, when summarized, still filled up an entire whiteboard in a Pechero Hall classroom) we saw that the issues came down to two specifics: money and security.

As far as money is concerned, the issues are these: How are residence hall and assembly fines being used? And where does student tuition go? These are questions that many students are asking on campus. Unfortunately, they aren’t asking the right people. Fortunately for them, we did.

In today’s article, I am going to share what we learned about the money issues. Tomorrow, Brianna LeBlanc will share the results of our inquiries into security on campus. Are we truly the safest campus in Texas, and if so, why?

Finally, on day three, Brianna and I will sit down to address the inevitable question of: Where do we go from here? Rather than writing it, however, we’ll be presenting it as a podcast with audio clips from the actual interviews that were conducted during the semester.

I encourage you to read both articles and hear the podcast. It’s been a lot of work and we have found it very eye opening. I am sure you will too.

 

Show Me the Money

The first thing I want to say is that throughout our many interviews this semester, we never found any of our interviewees resistant to talking with us about these subject. In relation to money, we talked mainly with Joel Wallace, vice president for financial administration; James The, vice president for student services; Janelle Williams, dean of women; and Wil Iversen, dean of men. All were willing to share information they had.

We had previously talked to Ken Shaw, university president, about the possibility of Shaw appearing at assembly for a town hall where he would be available to answer questions from students. In addition to Shaw agreeing to this, Wallace agreed as well, although Wallace asked that we give him an idea of the types of financial questions that might come up at such a meeting, since he felt uncomfortable trying to come up with financial numbers off the top of his head. That’s understandable.

When asked where student tuition went, Wallace said that 80 percent of student tuition goes toward faculty salaries and benefits. Benefits take a much larger chunk of change than one might expect, and Wallace said that the University shelled out $1.5 million for medical benefits alone last year. Later he said that about 80 percent of the total operating budget is paid for by tuition, with the rest coming from church subsidies.

What about fines? Apparently, those funds add up each year. In his interview, Dean The shared that assembly fines average $5,000 per semester. That money goes into the student services budget and is used to help out “with whatever needs doing,” including clubs and student association needs.

Assembly fines average $5,000 per semester, with the money going to help out “whatever needs doing,” including clubs and SA needs.

Dean Jenelle and Dean Iversen agreed with Dean The that the amount of the fines was set quite a while ago by the student services committee. The dorm fines go to the men’s club and women’s club, respectively. Dean Jenelle states that residence hall women have the option of buying a Christmas present for a needy child of equal value to the fine if they so choose. That present is shared during the holidays.

The overall feeling I got was that deans and administrators were open and willing to share information with students who were willing to ask. But what about security? Are we being told the entire truth about out situation there? Read Brianna’s article tomorrow to find out.

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