Art by Autumn Hardwick
Some of the best — and most frequently misquoted — movie lines of all time are from Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise’s courtroom spat in A Few Good Men.
“You want answers?” Nicholson asks coyly.
“I want the truth,” Cruise demands.
“You can’t handle the truth!” Nicholson shouts back.
As student journalists, the Graphic staff looks for answers. We hunt high and low for sources to tell us their stories and to find responses to the questions our peers, faculty, staff, administrators and other community members hold. But we want more than answers. We want the truth.
Pepperdine’s affirmation statement says the University believes “that truth, having nothing to fear from investigation, should be pursued relentlessly in every discipline.” We couldn’t agree more.
But often, it is our own university who hinders our pursuit of the truth.
As a private institution, Pepperdine has a higher level of privacy than our neighboring public schools.
Students — and everyone else for that matter — cannot access every piece of data the University holds.
The Office of Institutional Effectiveness reports the Department of Education’s required admission rates, student demographics, cost of attendance, student-faculty ratios and available assistance for students with disabilities, but does not have to share former student records, employment records, law enforcement records or disciplinary records — all of which are not protected by FERPA and eligible for FOIA.
So not all information is publicly available — fine. Not all answers must be easily found. The deeper issue goes into what the University refuses to share.
The Board of Regents, after the Graphic requested meeting minutes for fall 2021, told the reporter it would not fulfill the request, “because it is the Graphic asking,” according to a Nov. 1 email from the Manager for Regent Relations.
The University Chief of Staff and Human Resources department declined to provide numbers of personnel laid off during the 2021 fiscal year to the Graphic for “privacy reasons,” a non-legal basis for this data refusal.
The Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Executive Officer of Pepperdine said they could not share Pepperdine’s FY21 budget, despite electing to share key numbers from the budget in a President’s Briefing. The University never addressed a class-action lawsuit for 2020-21 tuition either.
Beyond the administration, our student government has a history of barring student journalists from weekly meetings and striking information from its records, both policies against the organization’s constitution.
Fall 2021, Pepperdine misreported its vaccination rates for weeks and took weeks longer to update the information. The Athletics Director also refused to disclose athlete’s vaccination rates, something professional athletic groups have done, setting the standard.
Presently, the COVID-19 dashboard is updated infrequently, preventing students from having accurate understanding of the virus’ spread in classrooms, dorms and other facilities.
We do not mean to imply that every media request from the Graphic must be fulfilled —we understand the need for privacy and protected information. However, as students and stakeholders in this university beyond media publication, we believe our University and its leaders should inspire transparency at all levels.
How can we trust our institution to provide a high standard of academic excellence and embrace Christian values, per its mission statement, if it won’t disclose all it knows?
As students, we are dependent on the University for most of our livelihood — our education, our food, our housing, our jobs, our safety and most importantly, our future.
We, as student-journalists, want our University to remember that it declared “the student, as a person of infinite dignity, is the heart of the educational enterprise,” and this shouldn’t end with with questions from students or a media request from the Graphic.
University leaders do not owe its students answers to every question, but it should empower its own affirmation statement and remember the truth has nothing to be feared from investigation — whether it’s a student journalist’s pursuit or otherwise.
Give us the truth, Pepperdine. We can handle it.
Follow the Graphic on Twitter: @PeppGraphic