By Lucye Millerand
We reel in disbelief over the tragic events at Penn State. We ask ourselves what can be done to prevent a repetition of such grossly unethical conduct — the alleged crimes and the abject failure of accountability at Penn State. Sunshine is the most powerful disinfectant, and access to university records by the public, media, community organizations and other government institutions is a deterrent to this sort of infection.
Fortunately, New Jersey’s public universities are subject to our state’s Open Public Records Act. However, Penn State University is exempted from Pennsylvania’s Right To Know Law, the corresponding legislation across the Delaware.
“Thank goodness,” we say, “that sort over cover-up can’t happen here.” But the Governor’s Task Force on Higher Education, in its December 2010 report, suggests New Jersey loosen the OPRA provisions on public colleges and universities. The task force, chaired by former Gov. Tom Kean and primarily comprising college and university executives, notes:
“Requests for open public records are regularly submitted … by the public, labor unions, the media and government officials. … The institutions must produce the records … using valuable resources. The state should prohibit multiple requests for the same reason by the same entity.”
Readers who have followed The Star-Ledger’s coverage of irresponsible spending, no-bid contracts and personal executives contracts with six-digit separation payments to recognize the value of OPRA data to New Jersey’s public. Those who remember the State Commission of Investigation’s 2007 report “Vulnerable to Abuse” appreciate the need to have adequate records available to government officials.
Our organization, the Union of Rutgers Administrators (AFT Local 1766), uses the Open Public Records Act to obtain data on the complete Rutgers payroll twice each year. These “multiple requests” are not frivolous — they enable comparisons of data over time. Researchers call this “longitudinal analysis.” It is used to identify change.
Continue reading OPRA helps protect NJ schools from scandals like Penn State’s