Editorial: NIU must improve current FOIA system, website

NIU should make its information more transparent and easier to locate by including more links to documents and creating a daily Freedom of Information Act response log on its FOIA website.

The FOIA website allows the public to request information from the university like public employee contracts and salaries or university-generated documents.

Current FOIA system

In November, NIU projected an increase in FOIA submissions from 212 in Fiscal Year 2013 to 450-550 by the end of FY 2016, according to a Nov. 16 Northern Star article.

NIU receives two to six FOIA requests each day, according to an email from NIU Spokesperson Joe King. NIU only has two FOIA officers, FOIA Officer Joan Laurino and Brad Hoey, director of communications and marketing. A public body must have at least one person employed as a trained FOIA officer, according to the Illinois General Assembly.

From January 1 to March 17, out of the 113 FOIA’s submitted, 25 were requests for police records, six were requests for employee contracts and three were in regards to P-card or university paid employee spending, according to results from a FOIA submitted by the Northern Star.

FOIA website

NIU should expand its links to documents like information on tuition and enrollment, crime statistics, police reports and budget summaries to make its documents easier to find information on.

The NIU FOIA website currently has links to nine different public documents including the Board of Trustees meeting agendas and minutes, the President’s reports and Institutional Research, among others. The University of Illinois has 44 links to public documents to assist people looking for public records.

The FOIA website could also be expanded to include a daily log of all FOIA requests responded to, dividing it into police records and university records. The records should also include a search bar to allow the public to easily search past records which would increase trust and transparency with the university.

U of I does this on its FOIA website with each document that it responds to uploaded online. It has a daily log of FOIA requests filed in 2015 and 2016 that include the name of the person filing the FOIA, the topic of the request, the date and the FOIA officers response in a PDF. In addition, the U of I FOIA website has archives of previous requests from 2014.

This is helpful because the public can go online and see other peoples’ requests for FOIA and get the same information without having to FOIA for it themselves. The officers also appear more transparent by making their information public. If FOIA officers are taking the time to respond, it would be worth their while to make that information public.