WATCHING ADAMS COMMENTARY – 11/28/16
For over a year now, Watching Adams has published news and commentary articles on Adams State University during a particularly pivotal time in the institution’s history. And during this time, many have asked why such a website was created and why it now persists. In October of 2015, along with our first news articles about ASU’s delayed paychecks for adjuncts, delayed response to open records requests, and burying public data behind login-protected pages, we also published Why Are We Watching Adams? to better articulate the vision and mission of this website. As we close out the year 2016, it seems worth revisiting this question.
Many onlookers initially misunderstood the purpose of Watching Adams to be about former ASU Mass Communications faculty member Danny Ledonne – either his personal hiring grievances or the legal ordeal created by ASU upon banning him from campus without due process two days after publishing the first online articles critical of the university, culminating in a lawsuit filed against ASU by the American Civil Liberties Union and settled out of court for $100,000 and with a rescinding of the campus ban.
Many of those same onlookers assumed that, with the court case settled in July 2016, Watching Adams would simply go away. It didn’t.
To date, Watching Adams has published over 100 news and commentary articles, attracting over 125,000 page views from about 18,000 visitors; it is clear that there is a demand for the information Watching Adams is offering.
And still, in the fall of 2016, many have asked why Watching Adams continues to publish articles, maintain an open discussion forum, conduct polls, track documents, publish podcasts, and link to news articles about ASU. “Why do you care?” one comment asks. “Get a life!” another comment insists.
Indeed, if not for personal career fulfillment or a fixed subject matter like a lawsuit, it can be difficult to understand why an independent website would be dedicated to analysis and commentary on a small, rural university, run by a former employee and with anonymous support from many current and former employees, students, and community members. But the content itself demonstrates the need for such a site to exist.
In the past 14 months, Watching Adams has:
- made available salary data, other university documents, and analysis that was not otherwise public
- identified ASU’s ongoing practice of delayed payment for adjuncts as a violation of the Colorado Wage Act
- covered ASU’s violations of the Colorado Open Records Act by delaying responses to document requests by weeks or months
- highlighted major discrepancies in absolute and relative employee compensation
- covered ASU being placed on academic probation by the Higher Learning Commission
- reported on ASU undergoing a performance audit from the State Auditor after four years of negative financials
- reported on ASU having its credit rating downgraded by Moody’s Investors Service
- covered the court proceedings of ASU being sued by the ACLU
- documented ASU’s subsequent publication of multiple factually-incorrect statements about the settlement of this lawsuit
- reported on ASU’s administrative conduct being strongly criticized by academic organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the American Association of University Professors
- identified patterns of unusually high employee turnover
- tracked the continued plummeting of undergraduate on-campus enrollment
- covered the non-compliant, high teaching loads and open enrollment policies for online coursework
- reported on underperforming academic programs like nursing
- produced over a dozen podcast interviews with former students and employees of ASU, highlighting personalized perspectives and experiences from within the institution
- researched problems with guaranteed tuition policies at other campuses and related those issues to ASU’s own guaranteed tuition policy
- prompted ASU to address the issue of food insecurity and the denial of dining hall access for students behind on their tuition bills
- maintained a vibrant online discussion forum with hundreds of entries from a distinct array of anonymous and named commentators
- identified conflicts of interest with a senior faculty serving as multiple department chairs and also Faculty Senate president
- and broke news of blatantly unethical uses of Title V funding to purchase services from the university’s own Board of Trustees chair.
… Just to name a few!
Some of these and other stories as reported by Watching Adams have been picked up by mainstream and academic press – making these issues known far and wide. Meanwhile, virtually none of these matters have been covered by local media outlets who would ostensibly be in the best position to do so. If not for Watching Adams, the public would likely be unaware of these issues at a taxpayer-funded institution of higher education. Without a watchdog, ASU’s policies and practices have gone without scrutiny for far too long and the institution being sanctioned by multiple outside sources is proof of this.
However imperfect, Watching Adams is an attempt at demonstrating the need for critical and independent voices in local media at a crucial time in the history of higher education. As you are reading this, many students struggle to afford tuition nationwide, parents look to colleges and universities that will give their children the best start for their careers, faculty and staff labor in intensive and frequently underpaying positions, administrations often swell in size, scope, influence and budgets, athletics and special programs contain the potential to distort the costs and values of education, many states continue to trim funding for higher ed, and news outlets strain to hire journalists and publish stories while staying open.
Watching Adams stands as an effort in citizen journalism for the broader public interest in higher education policy and practice. And the “Watching Adams effect” has been seen on any number of issues across campus, resulting in more proactive measures to address concerns and recognizing that decisions can no longer be made behind closed doors, without critical analysis in the public eye. Sometimes, the ASU administration has been dragged, kicking and screaming, to do the right thing under pressure from Watching Adams coverage.
So we are still Watching Adams because good public institutions are the result of transparent and responsive governance.
We are still Watching Adams because administrations should know that they serve the public and that dedicated, vigilant citizens are holding them accountable.
And we are still Watching Adams because it is evident that someone must.