Many parents and students are displeased with UConn’s decision to increase tuition by over 30 percent over the next four years in response to the decline in state funding. The budget meetings leading to this decision were conducted behind closed doors, preventing input from the community and shielding the details of this meeting from public view.
On January 28, the Freedom of Information Commission issued a preliminary ruling stating that UConn’s manner of conducting this meeting violated the Freedom of Information Act. The university should have been more transparent and inclusive of community input as it made a decision that deeply affects students and their families.
College tuition is one of the largest expenses parents make to prepare their children for adulthood. Many parents and students are concerned with the rising costs of a college education and the value of student loans necessary to finance such costs. The decision to increase tuition at a state-supported university is one of great public interest. Students and their parents would like to know what factors the university is weighing in making its determination and would ideally like an opportunity to provide input or feedback to the discussion. The university community is denied these opportunities when the university makes a decision of great public interest behind the privacy of closed doors. In the future, the university should make these important decisions transparently.
The Freedom of Information Commission’s decision is only preliminary, as a final decision will be made by the full FOI Commission rather than a panel. It is thus possible that the preliminary decision may be overruled. As reported by WTNH, UConn released a statement expressing hope for that eventuality: “The ultimate decision on this matter will be made by the full FOI Commission and, if necessary, the courts.” This statement indicates a willingness to appeal the FOI Commission’s decision in state court should the ruling be adverse to the university.
One might ask why the university is so opposed to transparent budget meetings that it is willing to litigate an adverse Commission ruling through a costly and lengthy appeals process. If the university believes it has a compelling interest in private budget meetings, it should articulate that interest and subject it to public scrutiny.
Debates on raising student tuition at a state-supported university are so affected with a public interest as to require a clear and convincing reason why they should not be open to the public. A desire to shield decision makers from direct public disapproval would not suffice.