We recently queried the University of North Carolina about public comments made by the UNC Law Schools’ dean, Jack Boger. He was quoted as saying: “The open records act permits citizens and institutions to request such records without clarifying what their motives are. I think some within the university — I’m probably one of them – think there ought to be some sort of statutory restraint placed on that capacity. You could bring a university to its knees by simply asking every one of its 1,200 faculty members to ‘give me your last six weeks of emails,’ and have it all sorted through.”
We asked university officials if they had any comment or statement to make on this, and whether the quote represents the university’s policy towards open records – or at least influence how the university responds to such requests.
The gist of the response from Joel Curran, Vice Chancellor for Communications and Public Affairs, UNC-CH, was:
The University is fully committed to a policy of openness, honesty and cooperation when it comes to disclosing public records under the North Carolina Public Records Act and applicable federal laws covering public records.
We currently have the equivalent of nine full-time employees, at an annual cost of about $600,000, dedicated to carrying out our public records responsibilities.* Many other members of our campus community are periodically involved in this effort to comply with the law. Based on our research, the investment in our public records response far exceeds that currently required of our sister UNC campuses.
Members of the campus community have every right to express their personal opinions. Those personal opinions do not reflect a University position or policy.
I can’t say this really comes to grip with the issue. Note first the bureaucratic confusion of input with output. It doesn’t matter how many employees are assigned to records requests, or how much they spend; what matters is how eager they are to furnish records. Indeed — just to speak hypothetically — if they see their task as delaying and minimizing response to records requests, the more of them on the job, the more responses will be delayed and minimized.
The University may be “fully committed” to openness. But “the university” is an abstract creation. What really counts is the intent of the people it employs. And what is Jack Boger’s intent? He sounds as if he is very dubious about providing public records to the public.
That matters especially because he is the dean of the law school. He’s the boss. And employees take their cues from the boss.
And, of course, bureaucrats tend to dislike openness anyway.
So how open is the UNC Law School? Our experience over the last couple of years is that the school is very reluctant to let the public see what it is doing.
It so happens we agree the Law School shouldn’t have to employ nine staffers and spend $600,000 to provide open records. All university records should be posted on the Internet for any of the real bosses — the people of North Carolina — to view at any time.
Until that happens, the university’s openness will have to be judged not by words and budget items, but by results.
*We assume the figure refers to UNC-CH as a whole.NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Civitas Institute, its board members, donors or supporters, nor should it be construed as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action. PERMISSION TO REPRINT this paper in whole or in part is hereby granted provided full credit is given to the Civitas Institute.