Californians Aware, a nonprofit open-government advocacy group, recently gave UC Davis a failing grade for inadequately responding to public records requests.
The group requested information on Chancellor Linda Katehi’s employment contract, the agenda and minutes of the meeting at which that contract was approved, her conflict of interest form (Form 700), her university credit card account statements and her requests for reimbursements.
Lynette Temple, information practices coordinator for UC Davis, directed CalAware to the UC Office of the President for several of these documents, even though these documents should exist on campus. Katehi’s credit card account statements and requests for reimbursements were not provided within 30 days, according to CalAware’s report.
In all fairness, UC Davis’ response to this request was not as abysmal as the “F” grade suggests. One mitigating factor is that university offices were closed for several holidays last December, when the requests were made. Also, Temple’s first response to the request came within the standard 10-day response period.
However, CalAware’s audit shows that our campus could be doing more to accommodate public records requests.
UC Davis should take a cue from the California State University campuses, which averaged much higher ratings than the UC campuses. Sacramento State and Cal Poly, for example, both received A+ ratings in CalAware’s audit. Unlike UC Davis, these campuses provided all of the documents within 30 days of the original request. Unlike UC Davis and the other UC campuses, they took ownership of the records and did not direct the requesters to a different office.
One concerning discovery from CalAware’s study was that UC Davis charged 20 cents a page to photocopy the requested documents. That may not sound like much, but when you consider that many of these documents are hundreds of pages long, the charges add up quickly, making such requests prohibitively expensive in some cases.
If photocopying is so expensive in UC Davis’ Office of Campus Counsel, perhaps Temple should utilize the services of ASUCD’s Campus Copies office, which charges only six cents a page. This would certainly make the public records more accessible by making them cheaper. As an added bonus, it would benefit a student-run business unit that sometimes struggles to bring in enough revenue to cover its expenses.
Better yet, UC Davis should adopt a policy of scanning any requested documents and posting them online. This would save money on ink and paper. It would make less work for Temple whenever different people request the same document. It would also make the documents more permanently and easily accessible to the general public.
As a publicly funded institution, it’s UC Davis’ responsibility to make records readily available to the public. We cannot trust that our institutions are acting in our best interests without having easy access to this very specific and detailed information.