Larger institutions more transparent

If post-secondary institutions in Halifax are asked, not all of them will tell

When it comes to transparency at universities in Halifax, it seems the bigger schools are the most willing to share information with the public.

This fall, King’s journalism students asked Dalhousie, Saint Mary’s, King’s, Nova Scotia Community College, NSCAD University and the Atlantic School of Theology to disclose information such as the annual compensation of the institution’s president and the most recent budget.

The reactions to these requests varied, but a pattern emerged.Kim Kierans, who oversaw the work of one group of researchers, says her students generally found it easier to access information from the bigger institutions than the smaller ones. Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s are accustomed to these types of requests and tend to accommodate them willingly, she says.

But it’s not only the size of the school that determined how open they were to sharing information with the public.It appeared to depend on precedent, staffing and the culture of the organization.

Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s were very forthcoming, says Kierans, who is also director of King’s journalism school, and both schools exhibited a commitment to maintaining strong communication with the public.Saint Mary’s and Dalhousie have a lot of information available on their websites, while NSCAD and NSCC tended to be less transparent.

Anna Duckworth was a member of one team assigned to request information from NSCAD. She says when her group asked the school for financial information, “they just seemed to get generally quite pissed off and then when we’d call back… it started to get worse each week.”

NSCAD in fact called the office of King’s President William Barker, complaining that too many journalism students were calling all at once.

King’s journalism professor Kelly Toughill responded to the school’s complaint.She says NSCAD said it felt under siege and was troubled by the rudeness of one student’s demand for a quick reply.

Adriane Abbott, NSCAD’s director of university relations (development) says the institution was indeed overwhelmed by requests. She says that while Dalhousie might have 50 people on staff who are able to handle these requests, NSCAD only has five, and they are accountable for how they spend their time each day.

Journalists and the public can facilitate their own research, she says, by exploring the school’s website more thoroughly and making sure they direct questions to the appropriate person.

Toughill says NSCAD and NSCC showed a reluctance to provide routine, public information, perhaps because they had never been asked before. Some appeared unaware that property values and annual budgets, for example, are public information and appeared surprised that anyone would ask.Toughill says she is surprised that a school as large as NSCC is not more forthcoming with public information.

In Nova Scotia, universities are covered by provincial access laws, says Darce Fardy, the former privacy officer of Nova Scotia, but there were relatively few applications for access to information from universities during his time as privacy officer.The schools are under legal obligation to provide full disclosure, but people rarely take advantage of that policy, he says.

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