WKU’s response to records request fails to deliver on their promise of transparency


Allie Hendricks

Photo Illustration by Allie Hendricks

Herald Editorial Board

“WKU is a transparent, accountable university.”

This quote comes directly from a wku.edu web page titled “Transparency and Accountability,” and it is nothing short of irony.

A Herald staffer filed for an open records request to WKU on Nov. 1, 2016, requesting access or the release of all Title IX investigations concerning “sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and/or stalking levied against Western Kentucky University employees in the last five years”.

It has been almost five years since that request was made. In that span of time, WKU has filed a lawsuit against the Herald, thousands of dollars have been spent on legal fees and every Herald staffer that has dealt with this case has almost lost their sanity.

This editorial is not aimed to be a summary of the past five years of events, as a simple Google search can give you all the background information you need to understand the nuanced details of the lawsuit.

However, we want to make something clear: Our self-labeled transparent and accountable university has done almost nothing to be transparent or accountable in the handling of this case.

WKU showed us their intentions from the start. They blatantly refused to release records in which they were legally required to. All that they had to do in accordance with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act was to redact content from the files that would expose the identities of the complainants.

Instead, the university decided to stall the inevitable release of the records in a lengthy lawsuit, which is still active to this day. 

It is appalling that WKU would make the decision to sue one of the few amplifiers of student voices we have on campus, a move that will cost the Herald financially by the case’s conclusion.

If it weren’t for the grants and donations that we have received from alumni and press defense funds to pay legal fees, the current financial blow we are already experiencing would be even heavier.

If you think that’s bad, it gets much worse.

WKU finally released the requested records to us this past summer, but they are so heavily redacted that even portions of university policy are blacked out. What’s so ‘transparent’ about hundreds of pages of black boxes?

We get it, the identities of those who filed the complaints will be and should be hidden, but the level of redaction in some of these files is utterly ridiculous. 

Key pieces are blacked out of different parts of the files, making it difficult to determine timelines and actions within the cases. In some instances, witness testimonies are completely redacted.

We’re frustrated, disappointed and tired. We’ve been staring at black boxes for far too long, and our positive perceptions of WKU have been thoroughly damaged. As an editorial board, we are incredibly disappointed in the actions of our university.

It is clear that the university does not want to comply with us without attorneys, nor does it want to be held accountable for its actions.

We have a right to know these accusations, their respective investigations and their end results. We deserve to know how WKU handled these very serious cases as students as well as patrons. We have the cases in our hands, but we are still left in the dark.

After all of this, WKU doesn’t feel like the student-centered environment it should be. In refusing to release investigations on accusations against their own employees, as well as filing a lawsuit against us, the university chose itself over its students. 

It can be easy for us to view our university through rose-colored glasses. Tours, orientations and events are put in place in order to maintain our romanticized, beautifully tinted outlook on the school we chose.

It would be unfair to say that this situation has left a crack in our glasses, because that’s not what it has done. It’s shattered them. Gray, gloomy light is leaking in and it’s incredibly difficult to see. 

Nothing seems to be transparent.