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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC one of two universities to use new public records request portal

The Public Records Office has changed the way people make public records requests to the University. 

They now use Next Request, a web-based portal, to field public records requests. Before this change, requests were made via email and displayed as open or closed on the public records website.

Gavin Young, senior director for the Public Records Office, said the University of New Mexico is the only other school using Next Request.

“We want to make it easier for people to be able to make a request and the web form does that," Young said. "Not just make a request, but then track the request progress.”

Young said every request made past Jan. 13 is only on Next Request, and all requests filed prior to that date are on the old log, labeled as archived on the public records website.

Joel Curran, vice chancellor of university communications, said his office took over the Public Records Office and pays for it out of the Office of University Communications budget.

“Our cost is $6,250/year and a one-time $1,500 setup fee and $500 training session. The total purchase was $8,250 for this year,” Young said in an email.

In the next six months, the office hopes to implement a keyword search which will prevent workers in the office of public records from having to repeatedly fill the same requests, giving them more time to research.

“As the system populates, it’s going to be significant because you may not even know you want that document until you do a keyword search and suddenly realize, 'Oh that’s a document that exists; I can get that right now,'” Curran said.

Public records requests are made possible by of the Freedom of Information Act, a law that gives citizens the right to request federal agency records or information from the government.

“The default position is that government should be open to public view and that government business is the public’s business,” said Brooks Fuller, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate who teaches media law and media ethics at UNC.

UNC is included in this act because it is a public institution funded largely by the government. 

"Educational structures are pillars of society,” Fuller said. “They’re foundational to public life, and so they’re some of the most important institutions the public should have a hand in — in crafting their future and better understanding how they operate.”

Young said requesters like the new system.

“We’ve had some positive feedback from people who have appreciated getting large documents through the portal,” Young said. “When we were using the email-based system, anything that was too big for somebody’s email server, we had to sent them physically — either using a CD or a flash drive.”

He said the system has helped requesters to stay engaged.

“I’ve noticed we’ve seen an uptick in responses and additional questions from people who have received their documents using the portal,” Young said.

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