The University of Texas System, UT Austin, and several other UT institutions have stopped posting their public records production online, shuttering a transparency initiative launched by former UT regent Wallace Hall.
UT’s student newspaper, The Daily Texan, reported on Sunday night that UT had closed down its public records page in November.
Under a policy that Chancellor Bill McRaven approved on Sept. 21, the UT System and its component institutions reverted to its pre-Hall practice of simply complying with the minimum requirements in state public records law.
The Texas Public Information Act requires government agencies to make available to the general public all records that have been shared under the act with any individual requestor. However, it does not require that they be shared online.
At Hall’s prompting, the UT board took the extra step of establishing web pages where the public could review open records requests that had been submitted by others, as well as PDFs containing the records that were eventually produced in response.
But the board took a different direction after Greg Abbott was elected governor, and appointed six board members with close ties to the regime of disgraced former President Bill Powers, who was forced to resign for a running a secret university admissions operation and denying its existence to the chancellor and the board.
With its new members, the board took a different course, deciding that secret admissions in exchange for secret donations would be permitted under a new policy, one that also forbade university presidents from including records of such arrangements in the student’s files.
It was the Texas Public Information Act — and specifically, Hall’s review of some 40 boxes of records produced under the act — that brought the first evidence of admissions corruption to light.
At the height of the Powers controversy story, UT’s web page allowed reporters to track each other’s requests, which ensured broad dissemination of often embarrassing information.
According to the Daily Texan, “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.”
The student paper quoted both a school official who said that maintaining the page was too time-consuming, and a former journalism professor who — contradicting her — said it doesn’t take long to upload a PDF.
“The Office of the Attorney General does this so people can look it up and not have to make duplicate requests,” Wanda Cash, the professor, said. “So it shouldn’t be too time-consuming for the UT System.”
Jon Cassidy can be reached at [email protected]