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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Let the sun shine in’

Published: September 17, 2010
Section: Editorials

It is no secret that Brandeis students care about transparency. Deeply invested in the well-being and continued success of our university, the student body has repeatedly called upon the administration to be transparent about its policy and decision-making processes. The need for our passionate and vocal concerns has been reaffirmed by our administrators’ decisions time and time again.

Campus-wide reaction to The Rose Art controversy resulted in “town hall” meetings between students and administrators, and objections to the university’s opaque handling of the financial downturn were met with the addition of students to executive committees.

Despite these past constructive measures, in light of recent discoveries we are once more compelled to remind our administrators that true transparency is a consistent practice rather than an occasional ideal.

In response to The Hoot’s requests for an account of the clear connections between university trustees and certain companies with which the university does business, the administration served us vague assurances that there had been no violation of the board of trustee’s conflict of interest policy in these cases.

Both the contract renewal with Aramark and investment in Highfields Capital were passed off as normal orders of business. No details were released regarding the particulars of the alleged “competitive bid process” in which the company of Trustee Jeanette Lerman’s husband participated, and Senior Vice President of Communications Andrew Gully was likewise reticent about how much the university has invested with Highfields Capital since its owner Jonathon Jacobson was appointed to the board of trustees.

Apparently, it is up to the trustees to decide whether or not their participation on committees posing potential conflicts of interest to them is appropriate. We are not insinuating that the board has entered the university into these business relationships for the personal gain of individual trustees, but the purpose of transparency in an organization is not simply to give it a tool with which to defend itself from possible suspicions.

We will not accuse university administrators of having something to hide merely because they have not practiced full disclosure with the student body, nor are we asking to cynically dissect every single decision that our administrators make. Rather, we ask the university to remember the true value of transparency and why the student body demanded it in the first place.

A commitment to transparency on part of the administration is a display of trust. It is a positive confirmation of the mutual responsibility that all members of the Brandeis community have to maintain the integrity of our institution.

As Justice Louis Brandeis, our university’s namesake said, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”