year in review
EDITORIAL: The Daily's biggest projects of the year
This Year, The Daily was at the center of more than one controversy. Our investigations uncovered alcohol use in student organization offices and prompted changes in OUPD communication procedures. We called out the administration for unfair alcohol policies and endorsed the winning candidate for student government president. As a student-run newspaper, we hope to continue our role as one of the voices of students on campus. Here is a list of some of our biggest projects this year.
The issue: During a fugitive chase in Norman on Feb. 11, OUPD withheld important information about the suspect’s location. OUPD knew about the escapee as early as 10 a.m., but rejected The Daily’s requests for information for several hours. OU’s emergency alert system was implemented at 11 a.m., one hour after OUPD knew about the dangerous suspect.
When we were able to contact OUPD for the full story, four hours later, Lt. Bruce Chan explained OUPD worked directly with Norman police to create a perimeter to assist in capturing the suspect.
Response: President David Boren and Police Chief Liz Woollen responded to our call for more transparency. “I am in full agreement with your editorial,” Boren said, “I will work to make sure OUPD provides information in a more timely manner in the future,” he said.
“We agree that in this situation we could have communicated that more effectively. We have discussed this in our review of the situation, and we will concentrate more efforts on timely and effective communication,” Woollen said. Both Boren and Woollen recognize the need for fast communication in potentially dangerous situations. We hope to work with both of them in the future to help disseminate safety information to students.
Impact: OUPD used the emergency alert system to quickly inform students of a shooting close to campus near the intersection of Boyd Street and Flood Avenue on March 6. The system was implemented, warning students to stay away from the area minutes after the shots were fired. We applaud OUPD for changing its procedures to reflect the safety concerns of OU students. Since this incident, OU has continued to use the mass emergency communication effectively to warn students about safety and weather concerns in a timely manner. We hope OUPD will continue to communicate with us on a regular basis next semester.
Students for a Democratic Society
The issue: Members of Students for a Democratic Society were drinking and living in the student organization's office in the Oklahoma Memorial Union. Working on an anonymous tip, Daily reporters took pictures of empty liquor and beer bottles in the office. After a follow-up interview, members of the society admitted to drinking in the office. Members also admitted they knew it was wrong to drink in the office. Further investigation by The Daily revealed the office was being used to house a homeless student since the beginning of the semester.
Response: Joe Sangirardi, Student Government Association president, was reluctant to displace a homeless student. “I refuse to be put in a situation where I’m the person to force someone to be literally homeless, because it’s clear that the organization is not going to support their own member,” Sangirardi said. The administration was not as sympathetic. Shortly after our report, Clark Stroud, OU vice president for Student Affairs and dean of students, had the office cleaned out. “The SDS office should never have been utilized in that manner,” Stroud said.
Impact: Students for a Democratic Society will not be in the office next semester. Union director Laura Tontz is still holding the society’s office items awaiting a member to come pick them up. Daily reporters had significant difficulty getting administrators to respond to requests for comment on the story. It is still unclear exactly who controls the student organization offices. In response to Stroud’s actions, Sangirardi said, “OU’s administration is obligated, no matter where it is on campus, to take care of its students.” We will continue to monitor student organization offices next year.
Drinking on campus
The issue: As part of The Daily’s investigation of Students for a Democratic Society, we took a close look at university policy regarding drinking on campus. We were unable to find any university policy or state law that expressly forbade drinking in union offices. Policies applicable to residence halls and Greek houses are very specific — they expressly prohibit alcohol. The university, however, does not have a universal policy banning alcohol on campus. For some events, like football suites and weddings, alcohol is allowed under certain guidelines. This ambiguity called into question the university’s ability to discipline students caught drinking on campus.
Response: We contacted campus and state officials and asked them to point to a specific policy banning alcohol in campus offices. Anil Gollahalli, vice president and general counsel, did not point to any specific, written policy concerning alcohol use in student offices but instead asserted the university’s right to restrict alcohol on a case by case basis. “The university has addressed this issue through application of general employment and governance practices,” Gollahalli said. Other officials were also unable to answer our questions about specific alcohol policies. If the university expects students to follow a policy, the policy must be spelled out in the Student Code of Conduct or campus policy.
Impact: To date, there is no written policy that prohibits the use of alcohol in private campus offices. Considering Greek communities are subject to strict policies, this practice is biased against Greek students. Any student should not be disciplined for drinking in private on campus until there is a clear, written policy. To our knowledge, no disciplinary action has been taken against Students for a Democratic Society or individual members. The administration would prefer to sweep the alcohol issue under the rug, but it is an important issue to all students. Next year, we will continue to investigate incidences of drinking on campus, and make sure the university is applying university policy fairly.
After he discovered OU’s alcohol policy did not apply to student offices, Sangirardi opened up Joe’s Place bar and grill in student offices in the union. The grand opening was a red carpet event attracting celebrities from P. Diddy to JLo. President David Boren showed up in a stretch limousine, wearing a sequined cummerbund that landed him on People magazine’s 10 best-dressed list for 2013. During the first few weeks, students and faculty frequented Joe’s Place by the hundreds to try a sangria-rardi, Joe’s Place’s signature drink. With the enormous profits, SGA was able to bring The Rolling Stones to headline a weeklong music festival that included dozens of big-name music and entertainment acts.
As the money kept rolling in, some trouble followed. Rumors of the Facilities Management mafia’s involvement with the bar circled around campus. Joe’s closest friends reported he was blowing through $100 worth of Raising Cane’s chicken fingers a day, sometimes just licking the sauce and throwing the chicken away. Sangirardi and everyone around him was flying high with no end in sight.
But the good times were not to last as the IRS quickly caught up with Sangirardi. He had been paying employees in cash under the table and owed over $200,000 in back taxes. After a week of court appearances, Sangirardi was forced to shut down Joe’s Place forever. Students, administrators and faculty still talk about those magical three weeks when the happiness seemed to never end. They say if you listen at night in the student offices, you can still hear Boren’s voice singing along to “Free Bird” on the jukebox.
The issue: This year’s SGA presidential election was one of the most exciting races in recent memory. Ernest Ezeugo and Madeline Grunewald mobilized a large number of new voters to swing the race in their favor. The other candidates, Jackson Lisle and Laura Shapiro, ran on a conservative platform aimed at getting more students involved in SGA. Ezeugo and Gruenwald’s platform focused on higher education funding and involving students in the process of higher education advocacy. The Daily endorsed Ezeugo and Grunewald because they offered a larger vision for their service as SGA president and vice president.
Response: Ezeugo and Grunewald won the election by a significant margin. We believe students responded to their fresh ideas and new approach to what the office of SGA president could be. Since his inauguration, Ezeugo has met with President David Boren to discuss higher education funding and solutions to our funding problems.
Impact: We will have to wait until next semester to find out if Ezeugo follows through on his campaign promises. The Daily outlined specific signposts to monitor whether Ezeugo was meeting expectations. Because we endorsed him, we will continue to keep a cloes eye on his progress and the progress of his efforts to involve students in SGA and in higher education funding advocacies.
The issue: The Daily continues to cover GLBTQ issues on campus, in Oklahoma, nationally and internationally. This year, GLBTQ individuals have been subject to violence, gained ground with U.S. Supreme Court hearings and come out as members of professional sports teams. We joined an OU student’s call to the Food and Drug Administration to allow gay men to donate blood, and we asked students to support GLBTQ issues through understanding and outreach.
Response: OU implemented and recently expanded the coed housing initiative. Nationally, the U.S. Supreme Court case accepted two cases involving same-sex marriage. We also celebrated the one year anniversary of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and saw many states adopt same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, Oklahoma reaffirmed its commitment to its version of the Defense of Marriage Act and several GLBTQ individuals were subjected to violence in the state.
The issue: OU administration continues to violate open records legislation. OU denies faculty members access to their personnel files and hides the identity of individuals who receive parking tickets on campus. By hiding behind legislation meant to protect academic records, the administration closes off itself to oversight mechanisms integral to any state institution. We called on the university to make crime logs more accessible and make records available online for easy access. As part of this effort, The Daily hoped to educate students on open records and open meetings legislation as well as the role of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. Understanding open records and privacy legislation is the responsibility of every student. We have the right and responsibility to understand exactly where our tuition and tax money is going.
Response: The Daily is committed to pursuing open records in any way we can. Next semester, we are creating a special projects task force to investigate campus issues. This new entity will rely heavily on open records requests from OU and the state to track down where your money is going and how it is being spent. We hope to continue to press the administration into releasing every open record covered under Oklahoma law in a timely manner. The university has not responded