At the Gaylord College, University of Oklahoma journalism students are taught the value of transparency and accountability. Students at the OU Daily newspaper said their own university is not upholding these values.
On Thursday, the University of Oklahoma responded to complaints about transparency after records requests from news organizations, including News 9, have gone unanswered.
“It’s frustrating, in a word,” OU Daily Editor In Chief Blake Douglas said.
On Tuesday, the Daily posted a Twitter thread highlighting their outstanding open records request, two of which are more than a year old.
Douglas said news organizations understand some requests are more labor intensive and take more time, like collecting emails and internal communications. However, he said others should be easy.
“Simple things like the contract between OU and whoever they have designing this new golf facility, golf course, for example,” Douglas said.
In 2019, News 9 requested three years of transportation fee totals and emails between former OU President James Gallogly and top university officials immediately following his departure. Both requests have gone unanswered.
According to the Oklahoma Open Records Act, “a public body must provide prompt, reasonable access to its records…”
“It doesn’t change if it’s a university or a college,” OSU Media Law professor Joey Senat said. “They’re bound by the laws of the state.”
According to a video from the OU Daily’s Makenna Buckskin, OU President Joseph Harroz acknowledged to media law students there is a problem in how requests have been processed.
“The reality is the number of requests has grown, and we have to expand the number of positions, and we were too slow to add more positions,” Harroz said.
In a statement to News 9 on Thursday, the university said it’s committed to upholding the Open Records Act.
“In 2011, the Open Records Office received 708 requests compared to the 1,737 it received last year. The university is committing a major investment in the Open Records Office, within the Office of Legal Counsel, Open Records now has access to additional legal resources and an outside vendor for legal review as needed.”
Senat said record office staffing levels are an issue across the country.
“Universities are infamous for creating a choke-point by requiring that request all go to a public information office and then the universities understaffed the public records office knowing, particularly large universities such as OU, that you’re going to get a lot of requests every week,” he said.
OU records have also been the subject of legal battles.
The online news organization NonDoc.com is suing for the release of investigations into financial and sexual misconduct.
“How the University of Oklahoma presents itself in terms of transparency matters to donors, to legislators, to prospective students, to alumni, transparency matters,” Tres Savage with NonDoc said. “Showing that you’re responsive to records request is a great way to show that you want to be transparent, but also acknowledging that the records we seek regarding the Jones Day report exist and that you’re willing to provide them to the public because you have nothing to hide, that’s probably a good idea for the state’s flagship university.”
Read the full statement from the University below:
"As a state agency, the University of Oklahoma is committed to ensuring the public's right to know and be informed about the operations of the university. The Open Records Office follows guidance provided by the Open Records Act for processing and completing requests. Requests are handled as quickly as reasonably possible once all responsive information is received. Delays in access are primarily due to the scope of the request and the time required to prepare requested documents. In addition, within the last nine years, the number of requests have more than doubled. In 2011, the Open Records Office received 708 requests compared to the 1,737 it received last year. The university is committing a major investment in the Open Records Office, within the Office of Legal Counsel, Open Records now has access to additional legal resources and an outside vendor for legal review as needed. The office will also soon implement a new records management system."