U public relations looks to speed up data request response

Since last July, the University has received 362 requests under Minnesota public record law.

Keaton Schmitt

The University of Minnesota is altering its approach to public records requests by launching a new online tool and hiring an additional staff member to respond to requests.
Starting Thursday, the Office of Records and Information Management will use an online portal for all information requests. The office is also planning to hire a second full-time professional by July 1 to handle requests, said Evan Lapiska, University public relations director.  
In the past 11 years, the University has experienced a 203 percent increase in information requests under the Minnesota Data Practices Act. 
In the 2015 fiscal year, the school received 410 requests, and since July 1, 2015, the school received 362 requests — 100 of which involved former athletics director Norwood Teague. 
Some journalists have criticized the University over its response time to DPA requests and access to University officials, journalism professor Chris Ison said. 
“There have been some people who have been in charge of [data requests] in the past who have been rude to journalists, unresponsive — all the things that a public institution should not be,” Ison said.
Lapiska said the University tries to stay in touch with people who request information and sends documents as quickly as possible, but the high volume of requests and size of some documents sometimes makes the task difficult. 
The University also receives requests at multiple locations and emails, further complicating the process, Lapiska said.
Currently, Susan McKinney, Records and Information Management director, is the only full-time professional gathering and redacting documents for information requests. 
“Because we get so many requests … with one person doing it, it is difficult to keep track,” she said.
McKinney prepares documents and sends them to the University’s News Service, which then passes on the information to the party who requested them. 
In the past, large files have been sent via Google Docs, which some requesters found confusing, McKinney said, adding that she also sometimes had to split up documents into multiple parts to send them. 
The new portal centralizes the request process and will allow users to download requested files directly and receive notifications on the request’s progress, McKinney said.
Users will have to make an account or receive an anonymous tracking number to use the portal, she said.