You’re not allowed to read this article: how confidentiality hurts more than it helps

By Albert Chang-Yoo

I was working on an article last semester about A Sound Future, the University’s financial plan for the next few years. A full 160-page proposal was released for community feedback from students on October 10. It was an attempt at transparency, but just a week later the report was made confidential again.

As a student reporter, I was confused. Why not involve more students in a process that will affect all of us? Most students at the University of Puget Sound weren’t even really aware of this largescale financial process being dealt with “behind the scenes.” But lack of knowledge does not equal lack of concern. We saw that when five hundred people came to a November town hall, most with worries regarding budget cuts, curriculum changes, and the long-term stability of the University.

Right now, the real Sound Future plan is still under wraps, albeit slowly publicized through occasional emails. And it’s not just A Sound Future; the most important decisions on this University are made in private — in closed Board meetings, in committee meetings, in quiet conversation.

I’ve been a student on a committee with important decision-making powers. I also have seen how the institutions of the University operate through my wide range of interviews, from the Provost to the Board of Trustees. I understand the legal consequences of breaking confidentiality can be complex and tenuous. But confidentiality cannot be used as an excuse for lack of transparency. Far too often, I’d say, it coincides with something else — lack of effort.

During the November town hall, a student asked why there weren’t any members of the Board of Trustees in the room to answer questions. It just so happened that a Trustee had been sitting right next to them. The student had no idea who the people making decisions that affected their education were. It was a telling sign of disconnect between students and those who govern the University.

How do we know that the processes meant to help students are actually working if they are kept private? From my experience, there isn’t a single administrator at the University who hasn’t been personable, willing to help, and passionate about their job. The individual is not the institution. Yet secrecy — whether purposeful or not — breeds lack of trust. And there is already a palpable lack of trust between the student body and the administration.

Lack of trust is a theme on this campus. It’s evident even amongst student organizations, most notably regarding Greek Life. Usually, what happens in Greek Life tends to stay in Greek Life. And we can see how that has worked out: a clear divide amongst students who positively and negatively view fraternities and sororities. Students really don’t know why chapters may face losing their house or other disciplinary actions. Confidentiality almost always leads to a question of intention. From my experience, the mystery surrounding Greek Life from those on the periphery can make it easy to assume the worst without clear communication.

As a campus community, we are relearning how to be vulnerable and grow together. Returning from the pandemic and everything that has happened since then has been hard for everybody. Letting our communities become insulated and losing touch with each other will never help. A Sound Future plans to strengthen the University’s long-term finances, but in order for this community to truly thrive, we need to be transparent. As it stands, confidentiality will end up hurting more than it helps.