University stalls, charges high cost for sexual assault investigation records

1
4541
(Logo from Office of Institutional Equity)

Kansas State stalled and requested a high charge for the Collegian’s requests for records on sexual assault investigations by the Office of Institutional Equity.

The Collegian’s Kansas Open Records Act request asked for information on Office of Institutional Equity sexual harassment and/or sexual violence investigations related to the conduct of any student, faculty or staff member or campus visitor between May 1, 2012, and August 26, 2016.

This included “the specific date each investigation began and when the investigation was closed or if it remains open.”

After about two and half months and a revision to the original request, Hanna Manning, university records custodian, said the university needed another month to produce the records, starting from the time payment would be received.

And the amount Manning said was necessary? $1,375.

The total came from 35 hours, at $25 per hour, to access and copy the records, 10 hours of confidentiality/privilege/redaction review at $50 per hour and the printing costs of an undetermined number of pages.

Timeline

The Collegian filed the first request on Sept. 20 and received an acknowledgement of receipt on Sept. 23. In the university’s Sept. 28 response, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act was used to deny access to the records, even though the request only asked for dates of an investigation and the subject’s relation to the university.

On Oct. 6, the Collegian filed an amended request that specified the newspaper was “not asking for any personally identifiable or protected information.” The university sent its acknowledgment of receipt on Oct. 11. On Oct. 25, the university said it needed more time.

It was not until Nov. 4, about a month and a half after the original request, that K-State said it would release the records — at a cost of $1,375.

If the Collegian were to pay the full $1,375 needed for the request, that would be higher than the newspaper’s weekly payroll.

The amount is more than double the combined cost of two similar requests filed by the University Daily Kansan, the student newspaper at the University of Kansas and almost seven times the amount of the cost of the request that produced the records for the Daily Kansan.

Even at a lower cost, one Daily Kansan editor said they still overpaid for the public records.

University Daily Kansan

The Collegian’s record request originated from a collaboration idea with the Daily Kansan. K-State and KU both face two Title IX lawsuits each.

The records obtained by the Daily Kansan, which are detailed in a Nov. 30 story by Conner Mitchell, the Daily Kansan associate news editor, are listed in a six-page table.

The records show there were 273 reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence to KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access between May 2012 and August 2016.

They include the beginning and end dates of the investigations, the length of the investigation and whether the person under investigation was a student, faculty or staff member, campus visitor, someone not affiliated with KU or an unknown person.

Personal information, context into the university’s actions and details about the type of offenses were not included. They were also not specifically included in the request, Mitchell said, because “I knew that if I did, the request probably would be denied.”

Mitchell said he initially filed the requests because he wanted to know the length of investigations.

KU charged $362.50 for first request, which did not give him the information he wanted. His second request, which gave him the information reported in the Daily Kansan story, cost $198.50.

“So far we are $561 into open records requests for what I would still consider to be limited information,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said he thought KU’s cost was higher than it should have been.

“From what I know about open records act laws in different states, in general, is that they’re supposed to be compiled by the lowest salaried person in the staffroom who would get the records,” Mitchell said. “So I thought it was strange that we were charged $65 an hour in manager time and $33 an hour in staffing time because I’d love to meet people who actually make that much money.”

“I personally would not consider what we were charged to be reasonable, but we felt that the reporting we were going to do on it validated paying that much money,” Mitchell said.

Clery Act data

The Daily Kansan compared the data obtained through the open record request to data from the Clery Act, a federal law requiring universities to release the number of various types of criminal offenses.

In 2015, according to KU’s 2016 Clery report, there were 11 on-campus rapes with six of them at residential facilities, one non-campus rape and two rapes on public property. There were also four instances each of fondling and domestic violence, 10 of dating violence and 11 of stalking.

But KU’s Clery report data did not reflect the information obtained through the open record request. In 2015 KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access received 65 reports of sexual misconduct. The Clery report data only included 43 offenses.

“I think that gives more context to the fact that if there isn’t anything released by these universities in a timely manner about how often they’re told of these types of cases, you never really get a full picture of what a campus’s climate is like,” Mitchell said.

“Because if there were 65 reports of some kind of sexual misconduct in 2015, the fact that KU only has to report 11 of those or four of those is kind of demonstrative of how universities in general don’t give a complete picture of campus climate,” Mitchell continued.

In 2015, according to K-State’s 2016 Clery report for the Manhattan campus, there were three rapes in residential facilities, four non-campus rapes, five instances of domestic violence, four stalkings and one instance each of fondling and dating violence.

The report also shows no rapes in 2013 and 11 rapes in 2014.

The Olathe campus and Polytechnic campus in Salina had no sexual offenses listed in their Clery reports for 2013-2015.

Role of student newspapers

Several student newspaper from across the country have struggled with their universities, sometimes taking the battle to the courtroom, to obtain documents from open records requests related to various aspects of sexual assault at their respective universities.

The Indiana Daily Student, the student newspaper at Indiana University, saw its open records requests denied. The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina, filed a lawsuit against the university in November over an open records request.

The University of Kentucky sued its own student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, over the newspapers open records request. Western Kentucky University denied the open records request of its student newspaper, the Herald.

“Just from a student newspaper perspective, we don’t do this kind of reporting with the goal of being out to get administrators or things like that and I think that’s the perception sometimes,” Mitchell said. “We do it to shed light on a consistently underreported issue.”

“And campus communities, prospective students and their parents, they need as much context as possible about how universities handle reports of this kind of conduct to make a decision as to whether that’s place they want to go or not,” Mitchell continued. “This kind of reporting is necessary, but at the same time it’s hard for us to do our job when the information is so inaccessible and costs so much money.”

While the Collegian does not have any plans to sue the university, the cost is prohibitive of the request.

“Honestly, what this comes down to is that the records that we were given and that other universities do release, they are public, but when the universities don’t release them on a regular basis and newspaper like us have to request them, the cost alone takes away their accessibility because for student newspapers we can’t afford to continually be paying hundreds and hundreds of dollars for records that in theory could be made available to the public at no cost,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said he asked for updated information about this school year and was told to file what would be his third request.

“I think that continues to illustrate the fact that universities just aren’t going to be forthcoming about this kind of information and they are going to make people pay for it, which at some point has to be viewed as restricting public information,” Mitchell said.

With these continued costs, the ability of newspapers to do their jobs will be limited, Mitchell said.

“With records that they charge a student newspaper for $1,300, that’s just not possible,” Mitchell said. “It takes away our ability to do our due diligence.”

The information sought by the Kansan and the Collegian, Mitchell reiterated, is supposedly public record.

“When they ask for exorbitant amounts of money for not personally identifiable information, which is in theory public record, as government agency, that detracts from people ever getting a full picture of what the campus climate and safety and the universities’ response to these kind of reports is,” Mitchell said.

Advertisement
SHARE
Jason Tidd
Jason Tidd graduated from Kansas State University's Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communication in May 2017. He was the spring 2017 editor-in-chief, fall 2016 news editor and spring 2016 assistant news editor. While at K-State, Jason played baritone in the Pride of Wildcat Land marching band.