EDITORIAL: Long-term misrepresentation, not miscommunication
How many times will we have to go through this?
Just a few months ago, the public was given the run around by Central Michigan University’s administration about its $10 million allocation to the Events Center. At the time, University President George Ross pushed blame to his predecessor, saying he couldn’t be blamed for actions taken and plans made when he was not here.
This time, however, the egg is not only on Ross’ face but drips on to public relations, the Office of Information Technology and general counsel.
Six months ago, Central Michigan Life sent a Freedom of Information Act request seeking “all contracts regarding the cmich.edu redesign,” and we were given a single contract with Ohio-based Blue Chip Consulting Group for $550,000 plus travel expenses. As months went on, we repeatedly checked up on the status of the project.
“It’s coming soon,” we were told over and over. When a CM Life reporter asked Roger Rehm, Vice President of the Office of Information Technology, right before the April 9 launch whether the costs would exceed the stated $550,000, the answer was no.
After the April 9 launch, we followed up with a second FOIA request, this time wording it a bit differently: “seeking any and all emails and contracts containing the final terms and contract with the Blue Chip Consulting Group in regards to the new Central Michigan University website.”
And in a Friday afternoon meeting, we were clued in on the real amount: $956,950, most of which went to Blue Chip.
To the university’s credit, it followed with an email to faculty and staff breaking down the costs, but it does not excuse months of providing inaccurate information to the public. In the meeting, Rehm and Ross categorized the situation as “miscommunication.”
In reality, it was a blatant act of long-term misrepresentation.
There were ample opportunities to come clean, and they simply did not. University Communications never hesitates to correct us on smaller mistakes, so why did they let this clear untruth — that the cost we were given and repeatedly reported was only slightly more than half the total expense — be presented to the public for months?
This begs the question, if the FOIA requests were not sent out, would the public have ever known the project cost more than $550,000?
How can the public rely on this university to be trustworthy when pertinent documents are still being hidden after FOIA requests, which are seemingly the only means of shining sunlight on the murky inner workings of CMU?
It’s hard to laud Ross for finally meeting with CM Life’s editorial board when seemingly the only reason he did so was to save face on a six-month manipulation of the truth.
This isn’t the way a public university is run, nor should ever be run.
While wary steps have been taken to improve the administration’s transparency, these half-truths will linger in people’s minds for years when listening to new plans from it.
So, we will say again what has been reiterated many times in our editorials: Tell the truth.
Students and tax-payers don’t like paying six-figure salaries to people who think deceiving the public is part of their jobs.
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