Student journalist fights for transparency from Georgia’s university system

Georgia State University (GSU) student David Schick has been fighting a battle with Georgia Perimeter College (GPC) and the University System of Georgia (USG) since September 2012.

Schick, who received an associate’s degree from GPC then transferred to GSU, said his battle began last year when GPC announced it was facing a $25 million budget shortfall.

Soon after the college announced its financial difficulties, then GPC President Anthony Tricoli was reassigned to work in the college’s central office. He later resigned.

At the time of his resignation, Tricoli claimed he had no knowledge of the deficit and alleged fraud and mismanagement by key financial personnel at the college.

Hank Huckaby, chancellor of the USG, appointed Rob Watts to lead the college after Tricoli stepped down.

In May 25, Watts approved a “dynamic” budget with drastic cuts and personnel layoffs. More than 200 employees were laid off and the college reduced its operating expenses by shaving other areas of the budget. Watts also said there would be a hiring freeze.

It was after this chain of events that Schick began to question Watts’ and USG’s motives and whether there could be some truth to Tricoli’s accusations of fraud and mismanagement.

Schick sent an Open Records Act request to GPC in September asking for emails related to the layoffs from administrative staff.

“I wanted to know how they made the layoffs—the decision-making process,” Schick said. He was soon told by GPC that those emails would cost approximately $927.

That’s when Schick decided to contact the Student Press Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit organization that aims to protect the freedom of the press for student journalists. Schick said SPLC provided him a lawyer pro bono who sent a letter on his behalf responding to the college.

According to attorney Thomas Brown, GPC said it would take nearly 30 hours to retrieve all of the information he requested.

Schick then provided GPC with a sworn affidavit from an expert specializing in Microsoft Outlook systems management stating that it would take merely a few hours to obtain the information he requested.

“I went to him and asked him…he said, ‘I could do something like that in an hour and it wouldn’t even be an hour of active labor, I could get it to just send me a text when it’s done,’” Schick said.

Schick is still waiting for a response from GPC, who claims they never got a response from him for their $927 quote.

He also sent an open records request to USG requesting information regarding staffing and finances.

Schick said he knew it was a broad request but it was the only way he could be sure he’d get what he was looking for. USG came back with a $2,936 price tag. After several letters back and forth between Brown and the USG that price dropped to $291, but only after Schick threatened to sue.

“I guess there’s not enough scrutiny with the USG and a $6 billion budget going through there,” Schick said. “They raised Rob Watts’ salary $27,000 at the same time they’re cutting more than 200 jobs—that’s just arrogant and wrong, especially because he was already making more than Tricoli.”

When Schick started at GPC he planned to become a lawyer and eventually attend law school at the University of Georgia in Athens (UGA). Now, his plans have changed slightly. Schick still wants to become a lawyer specializing in First Amendment law and plans on transferring from GSU to UGA’s Grady School of Journalism.

“At this point I feel like I’m starting to set myself up as some First Amendment crusader,” Schick said. “I’ve got no desire to do this to get rich but I do have a desire to produce quality news and not end up working for the [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]. I want to blaze my own trail.”

Since Schick began his open records battle with GPC and the USG, he has been provided with some, but not all of the documents he requested.

His most recent request to GPC was for a list of positions that have been filled since last year’s layoffs, which the college said would cost more than $1,300 and 30 hours of labor to retrieve.

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