UT, UT System institutions remove online open records request logs

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UT-Austin and UT System institutions are no longer posting past open records requests on their websites.

The UT System’s open records policy required its institutions to display filed open records requests on their websites for years. But after the UT System amended this policy in September, UT-Austin and multiple UT institutions have removed these postings.

The UT System’s policy, UTS139, guides how its universities comply with the Texas Public Information Act, which provides public access to information from state institutions. The UT System added that each UT System institution and administration “must maintain a publicly-accessible (sic) website dedicated to displaying public information requests it has received and responsive information” per UTS139 in May 2015.

UT System spokeswoman Karen Adler said the System’s executive officers and chancellor reviewed this policy and updated UTS139 on Sept. 21, 2017.

“The policy that required institutions to post open records requests online was initially established as a benefit to the public,” Adler said in an email. “The UT System changed the policy because the websites received little traffic from the public but had a very high administrative burden to maintain.”

Adler said posting these requests proved time-consuming for staff. Rhonda Weldon, director of communications for UT’s financial and administrative services, said the new policy allows UT’s Open Records Office to focus on responding to new requests rather than maintaining a log of past requests.

“This policy change has no impact on UT Austin’s commitment to or level of transparency,” Weldon said in an emailed statement on behalf of UT’s Open Records Office. “The primary impact is that it frees staff resources to respond to the high volume of requests for information received annually (approximately 1500 last year).”

UT took down the webpage listing past open records requests on Nov. 8, 2017, Weldon said. UT-Arlington, UT-El Paso, UT-Rio Grande Valley and UT-San Antonio have also removed their open records request logs. UT-Dallas and UT-Permian Basin still have their webpages up but are in the process of removing them. The UT-Tyler webpage for “Open Record Requests Received” is now blank.

Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said the Texas Public Information Act does not require institutions to publish past open records requests.

Wanda Cash, an advocate for open government and a former journalism professor at UT, said multiple government institutions, such as school districts, have begun making more open records information available to help inform the public and cut down on the number of requests within the last 20 years. Since most requests are already processed digitally, Cash said posting the requests online is just one more step for UT.

Although the records will not be posted online, people can still ask to view past requests within the appropriate time frame.

“We try to advocate for all government institutions to share information online,” Shannon said. “If it is being frequently requested, it can be easier to just make available to the public.”

Correction: This story previously included a quote that said the Texas Attorney General's Office's website included a database of all open records requests. The Texas AG's Office only provides online records of select opinions regarding open records requests from government agencies and officials. The Daily Texan regrets this error.