514 days later, no use for records

A year and a half is a long time to wait for most things, but especially something that the state of North Carolina requires be given to you quickly.

On Thursday, the University finally complied with a public records request I made in the fall of 2011 — a whopping 514 days after submission.

A lot has changed in 17 months. Most importantly, the records I sought have become — not surprisingly — largely useless.

On Nov. 7, 2011, prompted by widespread speculation about the role of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies and its chairman in the athletic controversy of the day, I requested grade distributions for all classes in the department for the previous five years.

The request is a relic, a demonstration of just how little we knew then about what would months later be called one of the worst academic scandals in the University’s history. I knew nothing of the fake classes or forged grade rolls detailed in UNC’s own report on the department released six months later.

Of course, the request was also rather large. But N.C. public records law dictates that all requests be filled “as promptly as possible.” I can’t conceive of a way in which 514 days meets this standard, especially when multiple UNC-sponsored reviews have analyzed data similar to, if not the same as, what I was seeking.

I write this not to lambast administrators for their slow response time, but to argue that the low priority they place on accountability in this respect is a great disservice to the public they serve.

Had my Nov. 7, 2011 request been filled earlier, it could have provided valuable answers to the questions of the time. And, more importantly, it would have demonstrated a sense of accountability by the University to the public that pays its bills.

I accepted that my oldest request was a lost cause a long time ago (around its first birthday). But I haven’t lost hope on the following pending requests, which could still fill in the blanks on some critical issues:

  • The procedures the University uses to compile the crime statistics it submits to the federal government each year. In light of the public claim that UNC intentionally falsified the number of sexual assaults reported for 2010, this basic request has a compelling public interest. 72 days outstanding.
  • All emails sent between former Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning and Dean of Students Jonathan Sauls for two weeks in September 2011. This request seeks to provide context to an email used by UNC to discredit the claim that it underreported sexual assaults. 70 days outstanding.

I can only hope, for my sake and yours, that officials are working to fill these requests “as promptly as possible.”

But if that means another year of waiting, I’m sorry to say that the University’s public servants will have not only failed to do an important part of their jobs, they will have made it impossible for this public servant to do his.

Thanks for reading!

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