SA should release time cards of paid employees

By The Editorial Board

How does the Student Association spend its money? Good question.

Transparency is very important in government, even student government. In order for the public to ensure that any body is being run responsibly, they must be able to see where the money is going – and who’s making what.

The Northern Star filed a Freedom of Information Act request on April 4 requesting the time cards for all of the paid employees of the Student Association. The FOIA was denied by University Relations on April 13, which cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

According to the law, the federal government can deny funding to any institution that releases educational records of students without their permission.

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, told the Northern Star the Student Association fits the parameters of a public body and doesn’t receive federal funding, so they are not subject to FERPA. So while the university interpreted FERPA correctly, the SA doesn’t fall under those laws and should be obligated to disclose how it spends students’ money.

Goldstein said if a FOIA request was submitted to the SA directly, they should be obligated to release the time cards. The Northern Star filed the FOIA request Wednesday.

For several weeks now, the Star has been hearing rumors about misappropriation of SA funds. Rumors persist about directors hiring their friends, who in turn are paid by the SA for doing little to no work. Additionally, six executive directors were censured for not doing their jobs, one of which (Elliot Echols) is the incoming president for next year.

These accusations are troubling if true. After all, the SA is funded entirely by student fees – that is to say, money that each and every student pays as part of their tuition. So, the editors of the Star set out to investigate the rumors.

We can’t speak to the truthfulness of these rumors one way or another because we have nothing with which to prove or disprove them. If there’s nothing to hide, there’s no reason not to release the time cards.

The SA controls too much money to not be held accountable for what it spends. The SA Senate allocated over $1.64 million in organization funding for next year, including the $338,233 that was allocated to the SA itself (the highest among all student-run groups).

The SA has continually given itself more and more money; where is it all going?

A judge in North Carolina limited FERPA’s reach when he ruled on Tuesday that the law “does not provide a student with an invisible cloak so that the student can remain hidden from public view while enrolled at UNC.”

The student newspaper at the University of North Carolina, The Daily Tar Heel, requested phone records between the athletic director, head coach and a former assistant coach for the football team, parking tickets issued to 11 student-athletes and names and employment dates and salaries of all individuals employed as tutors for UNC athletes.

The judge sided with the university, however, when it came to releasing the salaries of student tutors hired for athletes, saying those salaries are “educational records.”

While this supports NIU’s decision to deny our request, it creates a gray area. NIU has the right to deny disclosure of the records and the SA is a subsection of the university.

It is still our belief, however, that the SA qualifies as a public body, and is therefore subject to open records. The SA controls the information; just because the university is denying the release doesn’t mean the SA has to.

The Northern Star is asking the Student Association to uphold transparency.

Prove to the student population that you aren’t misusing student fees and release the time card entries. Too many questions still exist on how student fees are spent, and too much money is being spent to justify those questions remaining unanswered.