Public records audit planned, coordinated and led by Will Drabold and Danielle Keeton-Olsen of The Post in Athens, OH. The entire audit process spanned from Septemeber 2015 to March 2016.
The overall goal of this audit was not to collect dozens of public records, but to test public universities' compliance with citizens looking to know more about the university. As public institutions that receive tax dollars, these universities are required to provide this information with ease and without probing into the reason behind the request.
This audit was not conducted as an official survey of public record compliance, but rather as an experiment to test the basic record request process as an average citizen may conduct it.
An audit of Ohio's public universities was last conducted for Sunshine Week in 2006 by the Ohio University Chapter of the Society of Professional Jounalists, though the Ohio Coalition for Open Government and state news organizations frequently conduct statewide audits.
We asked students who worked for campus newsrooms - if a campus had one - to request the records in person. Throughout the process, many students told us they had made record requests in the past with varying degrees of success. Rather than ask for records through email, which was most often the standard practice for retrieving public information, we asked auditors to visit official universtiy offices. We wanted to replicate the path that a regular citizen would likely take to find out information from a public university.
We selected five records to request that would involve different departments at the universities, yet be universal across universities. (The only record that did not completely apply was the ticket sales of the university's football team. If the university did not have a football team, its auditors requested the ticket sales of the basketball team.) All of the records we requested are public information under Ohio Sunshine Law, and anyone should be able to walk into a university office, request such information and receive it without having to provide their name, affiliation or reason for filing the request.
To collect the most accurate data, we wanted to standardize the process across university campuses. Will and Danielle began contacting student editors at different public universities in September 2015, and provided information and instruction to those willing to participate. If a local student newsroom did not want to participate, we sent students from The Post to conduct record requests on campus. For a full list of contributors, visit our credits page.
On Jan. 29, 2016, our auditors visited university offices that seemed like the most logical location of the record (e.g. Auditors would visit the Provost's Office or an executive administrative building to request a provost's performance evaluation). Auditors verbally asked for the records we assigned, and observe responses from the university officials. Auditors were asked not to provide any identifying information if prompted, and told to thank the official and leave if that official insisted on getting personal information. If auditors were directed to another university office, they were asked to try again at that location, unless they were redirected to a Legal Counsel office. If the auditors were redirected to a legal counsel office, they ended their request there, since redirecting to Legal Affairs is an acceptable response under Ohio law.
Auditors recounted their experiences right after making the request via a Google form, which Will and Danielle moderated throughout Jan. 29.
The Northeast Ohio Medical University was excluded because it was not a traditional undergraduate university, therefore records requested from that university would be difficult to compare. Kent State University was originally included in the process, however the Kent Stater's editor and auditors failed to comply with the above methodology on the day of the audit, so we had to exclude their results from our study.