In a democratic society, fair access to information is critical to driving development in industrial and social causes. Citizens and journalists alike require the free and abundant flow of information in order to better understand the world around them and contribute to the greater conversation of societal issues, which makes the occasional efforts to inhibit access to public records both puzzling and frustrating.
According to the Coloradoan, CSU administration is considering a proposal to change the state’s open records policy to limit requests to only Colorado residents.
For an institution that claims to be “setting the standard for public research universities in teaching, research, service and extension for the benefit of the citizens of Colorado, the United States and the world,” attempting to limit public inquiry into their records to only in-state citizens is a curious move that would seem to operate in direct contradiction to this mission. Indeed, in an era where our University looks to expand as state funding for education continues to plunge, CSU should not attempt to limit access to its public records.
There are many problematic aspects of this proposal CSU is considering, but the main issue is that it ignores the nature of the current state of higher education in the U.S. and the duties public institutions have to citizens. Higher education in our country is a topic of national interest, and as costs have risen by as much as 1200 percent in the past 35 years according to some estimates, universities have faced tougher scrutiny over their budgets and allocation of resources.
If CSU were to be successful in limiting inquiry into their records to in-state audiences, they would be deliberately removing themselves from the national audience in the context of the conversation surrounding higher education, which, unless administration has something they’re trying to hide, seems counterproductive and completely unnecessary. There are far more stakeholders at play that benefit from access to University records than just state legislators and paying students. There is plenty of useful information that national audiences and other colleges can gain from greater insight into CSU’s public records that could help improve higher education as a whole.
CSU is a public institution, and while the restrictions administration is considering proposing have been ruled constitutional and are currently practiced by a few other states, they still have a legal duty to offer reasonable access into their records to public audiences whether they like it or not.
Furthermore, it’s not as if current law gives anyone in the national public an all-access pass to CSU’s inner workings — open record policy is already decidedly fair and cognizant of the interests of public institutions. The Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) only provides reasonable access to certain information requested by inquirers. Records requests have to be submitted to the specific “custodian” of the records, and they can be rejected by the institution queried if the request does not detail specifically the information they seek access to. There is ample room in this policy for public organizations to control the degree of their transparency to the public, and as I’ve written before, CSU’s current policies are not particularly friendly to CORA requests and leave a lot to be desired in terms of their transparency.
CSU should, in fact, do more for public inquiry moving forward. If administration wishes to establish CSU as a national leader as an efficient, successful model for higher education, then they should be open to inquiry from all national audiences if we wish to contribute to improving higher education as a whole. CSU should drop its consideration of this unproductive proposal and instead strive for greater transparency throughout its whole organization.
Collegian Senior Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @seanskenn.