Saturday, August 8, 2015

Incivility and Transparency: When you go out of your way to hide things

The University of Illinois announced on August 7, 2015, that Chancellor Wise and key administrators on the Illinois campus switched to personal email accounts to communicate about sensitive issues to avoid the scrutiny brought about on the University by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the backdrop of the un-hiring of Professor Steven Salaita.

For instance, in one email to a Professor of Law, Chancellor Wise noted "We are doing virtually nothing over our Illinois email addresses...I am even being careful with this email address and deleting after sending."

The email is an excellent example of the sort of opaqueness with which Chancellor Wise had been making her decisions at Illinois.

It is also demonstrative of a deeper sense of incivility, incivility that is depicted in her unwillingness to be held accountable. In fact, the decision to switch to a private email account and then to delete the emails demonstrates an uncivil preoccupation with holding on to power by making decision-making processes invisible.

This lack of transparency is in essence a character of incivility.

Being fully aware of the freedom of information act that holds her accountable as a University leader, Chancellor Wise put in steps to avoid scrutiny and to render her decision-making processes invisible to key stakeholders. Beyond discussing the potential legal consequences of the decision, it is worthwhile to note the unethical nature of the decision.

Having the full knowledge that she and her decisions are accountable to the state and to the people of Illinois, Chancellor Wise took steps to avoid this accountability. Moreover, the emails now released by the University of Illinois depict the continued incivility of the University administration, demonstrating a broader tenor of high-handed decision-making.

It is ironic that for a University that has come under such scrutiny on a case built on arguments about incivility, the key architect of the incivility narrative had such little clue about incivility or knowingly violated the civility expectations of her stakeholders.  

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