Editor’s Letter: FAU Does Not Respect the Press

Public records and media requests go unanswered. Student Body President Maxwell Simonson promised open communication but hasn’t answered my emails all semester.

Gillian Manning, Editor-in-Chief

I’ve now spent a year working for the University Press and as I graduate this semester, there is one thing I would like the student body to know: FAU officials are not as communicative as they would like you to think.

Public Records

During this semester, I’ve put in three record requests that have gone unfulfilled as of Dec. 1. Due to Florida’s Sunshine Law, universities and other public institutions are required to make records available upon request, though there are a few exceptions in instances such as open police investigations.

The Public Records Act does not detail a specific time period in which requests must be filled, but institutions must be able to justify any delays.

One record request asked for exit interviews conducted by a particular staff member. University staff conducts exit interviews when an employee leaves to understand the employee’s reason for leaving and their impression of their time with the institution.

This can be important when analyzing the state of an organization and the reasons for employee turnover. We received an anonymous tip that exit interviews were being improperly conducted.

The record office acknowledged my request on Sept. 2 and the last time I was in touch with the records office was Sept. 23. The university has yet to fill my request.

In early September, I also requested documentation on FAU’s health inspection reports, specifically for the athletics facilities, as we received anonymous reports of mold and other hazardous conditions. The last time the records office and I interacted regarding this request was Oct. 21. I still have not received any records.

Not fulfilling record requests after several months hinders the reporting that the UP is able to conduct. If we cannot access the information, we cannot report it to the public.

In October, someone was stealing and throwing away our newspapers in bulk after we published a story about Student Government leaders’ stance on mask mandates. At least 700 issues were ultimately trashed, which is your money in the garbage.

Empty news box after issues were stolen.

The majority of these incidents occurred in direct view of security cameras. One particular incident took place directly in front of a camera attached to the Heritage Park Towers dorm.

After filing a police report on Oct. 4, we requested security footage and other documents pertaining to the investigation. Over a month later, FAU has told us they are not required to provide security footage—which is true. The state legislation says that footage does not need to be released if it could possibly reveal the location of security cameras.

We cannot confirm if there are Student Government members in the video footage.

On Dec. 2, the public records office sent the UP police reports with redacted information as the investigation is ongoing.

There are at least four other outstanding record requests from the UP that the university has not honored.

Media Relations

FAU’s Media Relations office, which is responsible for coordinating the university’s media involvement, often creates obstacles in timely reporting for the UP.

The university’s website does not indicate any rules regarding faculty and staff’s interaction with media. In fact, under “policies,” they write, “FAU recognizes the special role that faculty and students play in cultivating a spirit of inquiry and scholarly criticism, and FAU encourages faculty and students to speak freely on, and seek changes in, academic and institutional policies and to exercise constitutional rights without institutional censorship or discipline.”

The university encourages faculty and staff to loop media relations personnel into interview requests but doesn’t require them to.

Yet Joshua Glanzer, associate vice president for Media Relations and Public Affairs, will send out emails instructing UP reporters to strictly contact his office for media inquiries.

“Our long-standing policy states that staff are expected to loop in media relations when contacted by the media,” Glanzer wrote in a Sept. 28 email to Director of Student Media Addiel Gomez.

The UP typically doesn’t reach out to Glanzer for most interview requests, as response times from Media Relations are often slow. I sent him an email in August requesting information about a graduation ceremony for students who graduated during the pandemic, which he never answered.

In his email, Glanzer described the UP’s lack of outreach to his office as an “issue.”

Student Body President

“My number one priority is really to communicate with the students,” Student Body President Maxwell Simonson said during election season last spring.

He told the UP his preferred email address, [email protected], which I have emailed at least five times this semester regarding the President’s Administrative Cabinet (PAC), which is composed of SG leaders and advises the president; he hasn’t responded.

After the UP published a story on Simonson’s opinions on masking and the coronavirus vaccine, we received a screenshot from a Snapchat group chat including Simonson and Edward Perez, the former SG campus budget chairman.

In the screenshot, Perez said he decreased the UP’s budget in the past and Simonson said he would try to add additional cuts.

I was trying to access PAC meeting minutes to understand if Simonson may have discussed this further with his peers. We cannot confirm if Simonson was joking about defunding the UP in response to coverage.

Simonson gave his cellphone number to the UP’s managing editor, Kendall Little. He told her over text, “You can reach out anytime. I want to help y’all as much as [I] can, and if you ever are curious or want to know more about anything, I’m an open book.”

Over the course of three weeks, Little would send periodic messages for information about Simonson’s claim that he created the Native American Student Union on campus, his involvement with the Board of Trustees, and the Morikami Museum visit he said he took after making his controversial TikTok.

During those weeks, Little did not receive a response. She even sat outside his office in the Student Union on multiple occasions, waiting for him to arrive.

While FAU has said that it’s “committed to a policy of openness,” my experience covering the campus has revealed the opposite.

When institutions would rather keep information from the media, I encourage people to question what they are hiding.

Editor’s Note: This editor’s letter is a part of our December/January issue titled “Unfinished Business,” which you can pick up on campus or read online here.

Gillian Manning is the editor-in-chief for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, tweet her @gillianmanning_ or email [email protected].