Miami among the least compliant of Ohio's universities
By: Emily Tate
Editor at Large for The Miami Student
An audit of Ohio’s public universities showed Miami to be among the least compliant with the state’s Sunshine Laws, which require public universities to provide records in a timely manner.
The Miami Student requested five records at Miami University as part of the Ohio Universities Public Records Audit conducted in January 2016. College students from seven universities audited 12 public universities.
Of those audited, Miami was one of only two universities whose requests did not result in a single case of compliance. Compliance, for this audit, is either providing the record in a reasonable amount of time or referring the requester to the university’s legal affairs department.
Robin Parker is Miami’s general counsel. She declined to comment on record for this story.
For three requests, auditors were asked to provide identifying information — ranging from their names, affiliations and intentions in asking for the record — which obstructed the request. And in two cases, auditors were told their request could not be met unless it was submitted in writing. In fact, the law explicitly states that a request need not be made in writing to be granted.
“It never ceases to amaze me the obstruction that you see, the efforts to dodge, the asking for ‘why do you want to know?’” said Ashlie Sletvold, an attorney for Chandra Law Firm LLC in Cleveland. “[People who] field those requests are unaware of the absolute entitlement of the public. In Ohio, public records are the people’s records. Those who hold them do it as merely custodians for the people.”
Sletvold specializes in enforcing public records requests under the Ohio Public Records Act.
At Miami, training and education about Ohio Sunshine Laws is limited. But Claire Wagner, director of university news and communications, said employees generally know how to field public records requests.
“I don’t think it’s something that is top of training for people, but it’s in our Policy and Information Manual and, to my knowledge, staff, as needed, know to go through their supervisors, who tell them my office or the Counsel’s office,” Wagner said.
It is official university policy for offices that receive records requests to forward them on to the Office of the General Counsel. However, for the five records requested in this audit, no one contacted the general counsel or referred requesters to the general counsel’s office.
Patricia Newberry, a professor of journalism at Miami, said it is the university’s responsibility to provide proper training and regular reminders on how to handle public records requests.
“This exercise is a reminder to everybody who works at Miami University that we are a public institution and the majority of records that are created by this institution are public records that can be asked for and should be provided to whoever asks for them,” Newberry said.