Category Archives: Education

Investigative reporting center challenges University of Louisville Foundation secrecy

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting has been reporting on efforts to break through the secrecy surrounding the University of Louisville Foundation.

Like the University of Hawaii Foundation, it is a nonprofit organization that serves as the university’s fundraising arm.

KCIR reports that the state’s attorney general has issued several rulings that the foundation’s failure to provide certain records has violated the state’s public records law.

This is not an isolated case. Our newsroom has at least four other pending appeals related to U of L or the foundation’s failures to provide records.

The purpose of the Open Records Act is clear: Public records should be made available to the public quickly and expediently.

Nonetheless, when dealing with U of L and the foundation, it’s an adventure of interminable delays, obfuscation, missed deadlines and more. We are left with no options but to appeal to the attorney general. It’s become routine.

A Kentucky Supreme Court decision in 2008 affirmed that the foundation is a public agency, at least for purposes of the state’s public records law. The case involved a request for identifying information of some 47,000 persons who had contributed to the university through the foundation. The court held that the donor records are personal records, and then had to weigh the privacy interests of donors against the public interest in disclosure.

The public has a legitimate interest in the functions of the Foundation. ? As noted above, the Court of Appeals determined that the Foundation is a public agency within the meaning of the Open Records Act, and that ruling has not been disturbed by this Court. ? The Court of Appeals’ conclusion was predicated on the finding that the Foundation and the University essentially act as one and the same, and that the Foundation was established, created, and wholly controlled by the University. ? As a public institution that receives taxpayer dollars, the public certainly has an interest in the operation and administration of the University.

The Foundation’s stated goal is to advance the charitable and educational purposes of the University of Louisville. ? To this end, it solicits, receives, and spends money and other assets on behalf of the University. ? The public’s legitimate interest in the University’s operations then logically extends to the operations of the Foundation.

Moreover, the Courier-Journal has argued, and we agree, that certain donors may not simply wish to conceal their identities, but rather may wish to conceal the true purposes of their donations. ? Donors, particularly those making substantial gifts, may wish to influence the University’s decisions and policies, or to have some type of benefit conferred upon them by the University. ? The record supports this contention-several anonymous donors specifically indicated that their gifts were being made with the understanding that they would receive tickets to athletic functions. ? Accordingly, we agree that the public’s interest is particularly piqued by large donations from anonymous donors, and that a legitimate question of influence is raised by such circumstances. [case citations removed]

After reviewing the facts, the court ruled that all but 62 of the donors had to be disclosed. The 62 held exempt from disclosure had requested anonymity prior to the decision that the Foundation is subject to the state’s public records law and donors identities a matter of public record.

In Hawaii, I believe the status of the UH Foundation is still controversial. A 1997 opinion by the Office of Information Practices held that all donor information is exempt from disclosure, but I don’t think this issue has gone up to the Hawaii Supreme Court. At least such a case doesn’t appear in OIP’s listing of prior Hawaii court decisions.

Throwback Thursday: Sometime in the Spring of 1966

I think this photo was taken in the spring of 1966.

It was the group of students who had “pledged” with Delta Tau Delta fraternity at Whitman College (Walla Walla, Washington) during the 1965-1966 academic year.

To put in in perspective, it was the year before the first Super Bowl was played.

It was before I first grew a beard. It was also the last time I owned a suit or a tie, although I did wear a tie when Meda and I got married a few years later.

Lots of good guys in this group.

Click on the photo to see larger version.

Delt pledges

Judge says ethics guidelines must be adopted as rules to be valid

I’m trying to figure out the actual meaning of yesterday’s court ruling which struck down a set of ethics guidelines for public school teachers involvement in educational trips.

The ruling came in lawsuit brought by the Hawaii State Teachers Association appealing a decision by the State Ethics Commission.

The educational travel guidelines, adopted last year by the State Ethics Commission, said several provisions of the ethics code conflict with the past practice of teachers accepting free travel and other benefits from private travel companies in exchange for the teachers planning the trips, recruiting participants, and serving as chaperones. As a result, the commission held that trips could not proceed until or unless they were brought into compliance with the ethics laws.

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:

Judge Rhonda Nishimura repealed the Ethics Commission’s Aug. 4, 2015, memo and Aug. 19, 2015, advisory opinion today after hearing oral arguments. She said because the advice applies to a broader group, the process is subject to official rulemaking under law, which involves the public.

“So for the state Ethics Commission to issue such an advisory opinion and guidance memo that has a broader application than just a particular teacher or particular trip, does require that the entities involved engage in rulemaking,” Nishimura said.

The basis for the ruling appears to be that the commission’s “guidance” was actually a rule of general application which should have been adopted pursuant to the Hawaii Administrative Procedures Act, Chapter 91 HRS.

HSTA, represented by attorney Colleen Hanabusa, had previously made this argument directly to the commission, which rejected it. HSTA then appealed the commission’s ruling to the Circuit Court.

HSTA questioned the ethics commission’s application of the gift provisions of the ethics law, which prohibit soliciting or accepting any gifts “under circumstances where it can reasonably be inferred that the gift is given to influence the employees in the performance of the employees’ official duties or is intended as a reward for official action on the employees’ part.”

From HSTA’s “petition for a declaratory order or alternatively for a contested case“:

Clearly the dispositive language the EC has relied upon is “reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence.” HRS §84-11. The question is without rules how does the EC and/or its staff arrive at the conclusion that the provision of the free trip is to influence by inference the teacher to take the trip. It fails to first acknowledge that the teacher does not decide who will take the trip, the parents do. The EC refuses to give weight to, although it does concede, that the teachers conduct lessons and act as chaperones on the trip. However, no matter how “unique and valuable the educational experience” may be, the EC has determined it would violate public confidence.


Where the dispute arises is in the question of whether it can “reasonably inferred” that it [the gift] was intended to influence. Rules are mandated under HAPA to ensure that these terms are not arbitrarily and capriciously defined and acted upon by the agency personnel. This is what HSTA contends has occurred here.

Just when is it reasonable to infer that a specific gift is intended to improperly influence a public employee or official? That’s what HSTA thinks should be addressed via consideration of a rule, with the protections provided for public participation in the process.

So what does yesterday’s court ruling mean in practice?

First, it rescinds the commission’s adoption of the educational travel guidelines.

Second, it establishes that the commission must go through the rule making process if it wants to adopt these guidelines.

Third, it raises questions about other applications of the same gift provisions as applied to legislators and other government officials.

It does not, however, appear that the court ruled that the commission’s interpretation of the gift law is wrong, only that it was not properly adopted as a rule of general applicability. So it doesn’t seem to prevent the commission from enforcing the same interpretation of the gift provisions in specific situations where a violation of the ethics code is alleged. Hopefully this will soon be clarified.

And I would think it is highly likely the commission will appeal the court ruling in an attempt to preserve its own authority to interpret and apply the ethics laws.

See also:

Ethics ruling stops student trips, at least for now ( 2/21/2015)

No More Free Trips for Hawaii Public School Teachers (Civil Beat, 2/20/2015)

Ethics ruling on free trips for teacher-chaperones deserves better media coverage (4/27/2015)

Ian Lind: Untangling the Ethics of Educational Travel (Civil Beat 6/3/2015)

A few midweek media notes


I failed to post anything yesterday. That’s the first time I’ve missed a day in a while, as I usually get at least some kind of placeholder up. Not so yesterday, as I got caught up in pulling things together to write my weekly column for Civil Beat. The topic was a different look at the case pending before the Hawaii Supreme Court regarding ballot problems in the 2012 General Election.

After listening to the recording of the oral arguments posted on the Judiciary website, I tried to put the whole thing together in context. I don’t know that I succeeded. But the focus of the questioning by the Supreme Court justices certainly added another dimension to the story.

You can find the column posted at Civil Beat today (“Ian Lind: Justices Aren’t Buying That Voting Rights Weren’t Violated“).

Moving on…As a former Kaaawa resident, I always pay attention to news from the old neighborhood. I caught in passing a story on the television news last night of an accident in Kaaawa, so checked the Star-Advertiser this morning.

It wasn’t hard to find: “3 children, 1 woman injured in school bus-SUV crash in Kaaawa.”

In the third paragraph, the Star-Advertiser reported the location of the accident.

The crash occurred about 7:05 p.m. near Kualoa Regional Park and about 15 firefighters responded to the incident.

Then, at the end of the story, there was this information:

Police reported Kamehameha Highway was closed in both directions from Crouching Lion Inn to the 7-Eleven.

If you’re at all familiar with the area, you’ll recognize the error here.

Kualoa Regional Park is about 3.5 miles from the Kaaawa 7-Eleven store, and a little farther from the Crouching Lion.

For perspective, that’s about the distance from Kaaawa to Punaluu, the next community along the coast.

Or, if you spend most of your time on the Honolulu side of the mountains, it’s like saying the accident happened near the State Capitol, and then slipping in that it actually happened in front of the Honolulu Zoo on the Diamond Head end of Waikiki. The two points are just about the same distance apart as Kualoa Park and the Crouching Lion.

I don’t know where the two different locations cited in the S-A story came from, but there should be some checking to avoid that kind of error.

And then there was the PBS Newshour last night, which featured a segment on geobiologist and author, Hope Jahren (“The secret life of plants — and ‘Lab Girl’ author Hope Jahren“).

Very interesting interview. Jahren has done lots of scientific writing, but has also been prolific in more general writing “about interactions between women and men and Academia” on her blog,

What didn’t get any mention is that Jahren has been a faculty member at the University of Hawaii at Manoa since 2008, where she has her own lab (Jahren Laboratory) in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

And once you know that, the next question is whether UH can rise above its many problems to keep this kind of world class woman on its faculty?

A lesson in participatory planning as college changes its mascot

Remember back when June Jones blew into town as head football coach at the University of Hawaii and immediately moved to “rebrand” the team, dumping the longtime “Rainbows” and ordering the change to “Warriors”?

It’s interesting to compare that process–hint: there really wasn’t one–to what’s going on at Whitman College, where I graduated back in the days of the dinosaurs. Well, maybe there were no dinosaurs, but there were also no vineyards or wineries yet. So it was definitely a while back.

Whitman’s sports teams have previously been known as the Missionaries, or Fighting Missionaries, to be more precise, references back to the 19th-Century Presbyterian missionary couple, Marcus Whitman and his wife, Narcissa Prentiss Whitman, for whom the college is named.

The “missionary” label was challenged, and the college set in motion an inclusive review process which has now resulted in a recommendation that the name and mascot be changed. A separate process has now been launched to recommend a replacement.

The whole approach is a model in terms of inclusiveness and participation. All alumni, students, faculty and staff were surveyed. The committee, with representation from all constituencies, then wrestled with the decision.

A far cry from turning the decision over to the whims of the lone wolf football coach, a decision that later had to be reversed.

Anyway, I thought I would share an excerpt from an email from Whitman’s president, received this week, in which she review the lengthy review process.

April 6, 2016

Dear members of the Whitman community,

I write today to provide an update on the work of the Mascot Working Group and information on the next steps in this process.

There are myriad elements and influences that define a college experience: its history, its faculty, its students, its location, its governance, its co-curricular opportunities. As I have learned in my first year at Whitman, our college offers a wonderfully rich and robust experience. We work hard to make that experience as inclusive of and welcoming to all members of our community as possible, while also acknowledging that it is sometimes the difficult conversations around challenging ideas that lead to meaningful learning and growth. Last fall, based on questions raised in the past about the Whitman mascot and conversations that were then taking place across campus, I decided that it was time to ask whether our college mascot was appropriately inclusive and welcoming to today’s Whitman community. I do not think a mascot (defined as a person, animal, or object adopted as the symbol of a group and believed to bring good luck) should precipitate the difficult conversations around challenging ideas. A mascot is meant to be something around which supporters of a college, and particularly athletic teams, rally.

To help answer the question, we formed the Mascot Working Group in December 2015, chaired by Whitman Overseer Tricia Montgomery (Class of 1990), and consisting of current students, faculty, staff, alumni, and governing board members. They were charged with making a recommendation about whether the Missionary mascot is appropriate for Whitman today.

After a thorough process that took into account the feedback of thousands of alumni, the Mascot Working Group reached a unanimous decision that the Missionary mascot is not the appropriate mascot for our college today. I and the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees have endorsed that recommendation. The full working group report, including a summary of their process, guiding principles, and recommendation, is available online at for your information, along with an executive summary of the survey data. While the working group reached a unanimous recommendation, I recognize that a significant group of Whitties, particularly among our alumni, voiced strong opposition to any move away from the Missionary mascot. I know that this decision will disappoint those in that group, but hope that the retirement of the Missionary mascot is understood in light of the fact that all were given the opportunity to comment on the question and that the Mascot Working Group considered all the input it received. More importantly, we all know that the mascot is not the defining element of Whitman College; instead, it is our shared commitment to the educational mission of Whitman – that of providing a rigorous, residential education in the liberal arts.

This review process enabled us to hear from more than 7,100 Whitman students, alumni, and other members of the community; we learned that it is important to have a unifying symbol to reflect our collegiate pride and enthusiasm. And so I have again turned to Tricia Montgomery to lead a new working group to tackle the next phase of establishing an official mascot for Whitman College.

The committee, which will also include faculty, staff, students and alumni, will work over this summer to compile and refine a list of prospective official mascots. We will have the unique opportunity to create a new symbol for Whitman and its athletic teams, with a vote among the entire college community resulting in the naming of a new mascot in the fall of 2016.