Public records policy at the University of Oregon entered yet another phase Tuesday, as officials unveiled the latest effort to etch a proper level of transparency — amid publicity that claims the opposite — since reforms first appeared during the Richard Lariviere administration two years ago.
A new team of 17 administrators and faculty will explore ways to improve the public records process in the coming months, and will look to offer suggestions to President Michael Gottfredson, who joined the UO this year from UC Irvine.
Despite seeing the first meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. in the dead of winter break (a week before Christmas), all but a few members of the group managed to attend, cramming into a conference room in Johnson Hall to discuss the ongoing issue of transparency.
As recently as 2010, the UO did not have a designated public records office. Any request for documents from media or concerned citizens went through the University’s legal counsel office. But with its primary responsibility in legal disputes, the office often fell behind on meeting the 150 or so inquiries submitted each year to University departments.
“We were running about an average of 70 days on the turnaround for public records. That was absolutely unacceptable,” said Dave Hubin, the senior assistant to the president, Tuesday morning. “(Lariviere) put resources into it to form the office, and we made significant strides.”
The Lariviere administration allocated a total of $182,990 in 2011 for an office devoted solely to public records requests. According to Hubin, the average wait quickly dropped to around 10 days. The administration also chose to waive the first $200 in labor fees for any particular request.
Following the surprise termination of Lariviere at the end of last year, public records changed again. Interim President Robert Berdahl made the waiver optional, and reduced it to, at most, a single hour’s labor fees. While it may dismay some, that waiver policy is on par with comparable universities.
The UO’s lingering disrepute in transparency, though, is not. Despite the changes ushered in during the Lariviere administration, the UO is still somewhat criticized for blocking efforts by media and others to obtain hidden documents.
President Gottfredson’s administration intends to work toward changing that. The decision is ultimately in the hands of the president, however, and the team may not play a significant role in the decision. For instance, the administration is only asking the individuals to meet once a term for a few hours at a time, and is not asking for a formal report or any substantial research.
Even so, individuals in the working group expressed their interest Tuesday, showing up in force and sharing a few thoughts during the two-hour meeting.
The group is scheduled to meet again a month from now in late January, and is being asked to email evaluations of the public records website as it stands now.