Posted at 12:45 p.m., Feb. 15, 2016

Transparent legislation key to student government

Handling student money should not be private

College campuses all over the nation have student-run governments like Laramie County Community College’s Student Government Association. These groups are composed of and elected by students. They can control thousands and even millions of dollars. Many of these students go on to work in actual government positions. Recently a Wyoming legislative task force decided policy emails from the University of Wyoming student government should not be public documents. The legislative bill being proposed reads, “Electronic communications solely between students attending a school in Wyoming and electronic communications solely between students attending a school in Wyoming and a sender or recipient using a non-school user address are not a public record of that school.” As used in this paragraph, a “school in Wyoming” means the University of Wyoming, any community college and any public school within a school district in the state.”

This bill would make emails exchanged between SGA members private information. While student privacy is very important, organizations that decide where student funds are allocated should not be made private. Transparency is key to any government being trusted by those it affects. The faculty and students of any institution deserve to know where these funds are going and why they are going there. Allowing these emails to be kept private would take the student government associations of the state out of the public eye and public scrutiny.

After these issues were raised, according to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Tara Evans, deputy general counsel for UW, said public records requests for student emails are very rare. Although the emails might be reviewed as a public record by UW attorneys, there are usually exemptions that prevent release, but she went on to say that occasionally emails from student leaders in the Associated Students of the UW, the university’s student government organization, have been released. This provides precedence for the acquisition of student emails.

Issue being addressed

The WTE also reported that, earlier this year a working group made up of education leaders, student government representatives and members of the Wyoming Press Association was formed to address the issue. The Task Force on Digital Information Privacy decided that electronic communications that are solely between students and communications between students and a sender or recipient using a non-school user address should be exempt from Wyoming’s public records law.

The WTE also reported the opposing viewpoints. Brad Bonnar, a representative of the WPA, said he would like to keep in the section that made student government emails public information, stating that it would be a “teachable moment” for students that might someday be part of a government organization that falls under the public records act, but his main concern was something that is currently public record being made private.

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said that he does not believe student governments rise to the same standard as other public officials and “Even if they do get some money turned over to them that they can budget…I just don’t think it’s the same thing as a public official.” But Case is wrong. These groups have a direct affect on the students in their respective schools. Be it through spending or changes in policy. We, as students, deserve to know what is going on.

It is true that a student government organization is not on the same level as a city or state government, but it is also important for the people providing money to an institution to know where the money is being used and how it is determined. If any of these students are interested in going on to real government jobs they need to be treated as such. Transparency is key to any government being trusted and the students deserve to know how their peers are spending their money and how policy changes affect their school and lives. Students’ private emails should remain so, but any student government organization’s emails should be public record.

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