Task Force Recommendations Enhance University's FOIA Coordination Process, Facilitate Policy Update

Education and training to increase for coordinators, staff

Thursday, July 10, 2014

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The University of Arkansas is implementing all of the recommendations made by its Freedom of Information Act Task Force, a group that was charged with reviewing and improving the way the university coordinates and responds to requests for public documents covered by the Arkansas FOIA.

The final report issued by the task force outlines specific recommendations in several key areas, including:

  • coordination and process
  • education and training
  • administrative support
  • fees
  • online posting
  • proactivity.

The university’s policy on freedom of information — Fayetteville Policies and Procedures 207.0 — has been updated to reflect the recommendations. In addition to enhancing the ability to respond to requests for public records in an efficient and effective manner, the new policy calls for education and training for all members of the campus community about the university’s legal obligations under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

“Our top priority will always be to provide convenient and responsive access to the public records the university maintains,” said Laura Jacobs, associate vice chancellor of university relations. “The work of the FOIA Task Force will help us achieve this goal now and long into the future. We will also continue to audit our online presence to keep making public information easy to find and understand.”

The FOIA Task Force spent nearly three months evaluating all aspects of the response process on campus to requests for public information. This included hosting a listening session for news media representatives to share ideas to help facilitate the free flow of public information and to communicate any challenges they may have faced regarding requests for public documents.

“One of the things we learned is that misconceptions about the Arkansas FOIA statute and the different mandatory exemptions in the statute have created frustration for some requestors,” said Mark Rushing, the designated FOIA coordinator for the university and director of strategic communications for university relations. “We’re hoping to change that by adopting a policy that allows us to respond to requests as efficiently as possible while keeping requestors updated throughout the response process.” 

In order to make informed recommendations, the task force asked for a summary of the current scope and nature of open records requests on campus. According to the task force report, in the first three months of 2014, the University of Arkansas received approximately 100 requests for public records — an average of one new request every five hours of every work week during that time span. The volume of the university’s responses to those requests, varying from one page to thousands of pages, totaled more than 28,000 pages. 

“With the number and volume of FOIA requests the university coordinates, anything we can do to streamline the process is beneficial both in terms of providing timely access to public records and making the best use of our limited resources,” said Darinda Sharp, director of communications for the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. “As a member of the task force, I believe we made strong recommendations that will help make the process as clear and efficient as possible.”

Task force membership included representatives from several academic and administrative units, as well as intercollegiate athletics. The task force was appointed by Chancellor G. David Gearhart in February 2014 for the purpose of updating the existing campus policy to fully comply with the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees policy (270.1), which was approved in January 2014, concerning the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

Contacts:

Mark Rushing, director of strategic communications
University Relations
479-575-7422, markr@uark.edu

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