The University of North Carolina didn’t win any points for transparency in a report issued this week that found the Chapel Hill campus failed to respond to a student journalist’s request for copies of athletic department documents.
Several University of Maryland journalism students, in this report jointly published by the Student Press Law Center, asked 83 public colleges and universities for copies of codes of conduct for athletic departments and teams and other related documents.
While most schools complied with the request for copies of policies related to social media use by student athletes, UNC sat on the records request for more than five months without producing anything. Their inaction stood out from the rest of the schools, the vast majority of which complied with requests for records.
The student journalists also encountered problems at the University of Delaware and the University of Central Florida, both of which denied the requests for information.
Dave Collier, the head of University of Arizona’s journalism school and current president of the national Society of Professional Journalist, called UNC’s handling of the requests “terrible.”
“I don’t know if that’s UNC’s intent here, but it’s really outrageous, that kind of delay,” Cuillier said in the SPLC report. “Does UNC really want to be an outlier? Does UNC want to be seen that way?”
From the Student Press Law Center:
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, more than five months after receiving a request from a student, has yet to release any records. Officials haven’t hinted when they might.
Melissa Katz, a junior broadcast journalism major at Maryland, said her request to UNC was acknowledged the same day she submitted it, but the university’s responsiveness halted almost completely after that.
Katz followed up her request with emails and phone calls to several administrators at least every other week up until the project’s conclusion in December 2013, she said. Under North Carolina statutes, public agencies do not have to process records requests in a specific timeframe, although the law says they must fulfill requests “as promptly as possible.”
“They were continuously telling me that they didn’t have a timetable,” Katz said. “They pretty much hid behind that.”
Katz only received responses from officials a handful of times — a variation of the same acknowledgment.
“Thank you for inquiring about the status of your request,” wrote Zach Orth, a public records specialist for the university, in one email. “Although we are not able to provide you with a timeline for when you could expect to receive responsive public record documentation, when we are able to provide such documentation to you we will be back in-touch.”
Click here to read the full report.
At the risk of further stoking in-state rivalries, it’s worth nothing that both East Carolina University and N.C. State University were contacted by the students for the same records and complied with the requests.
In a written statement, UNC spokeswoman Karen Moon said the university has been dealing with an uptick in public records requests from news outlets and others in recent years, especially surrounding the school’s athletics department, making it hard to provide public records quickly.
The university is still working on the request submitted by the University of Maryland student, she said.
“Public Records staff have been identifying and gathering responsive records for the Student Press Law Center’s request, and that request is in the final stages of processing,” Moon wrote.
(Note: the request from a University of Maryland student, working on a project that was later published in conjunction with the press center.)
UNC is also in the midst of a lawsuit filed in January by the News & Observer over accusations that the university withheld records related to bogus UNC classes attended by student athletes.
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