In the final installment of my series on Bruce Weber’s post-mortem exodus from the University of Illinois, I unveil the process that produced the findings. Here is an example of the FOIA requests I submitted to seven public universities:
The first FOIA request went out on April 18, to the University of Illinois. It sought a copy of Bruce Weber’s employment contract, as well as compliance records. Illinois’ FOIA Coordinator Jaclyn Banister responded via email on the fifth (and last) business day of their statutorily mandated response window:
Under section 140/3(e)(i) the requested records are stored in whole or in part at other locations than the office having charge of the requested records; 140/3(e)(ii) the request requires the collection of a substantial number of specified records. I am taking the additional five days allowed by law to review information. The revised deadline will now be May 2.
In addition, Ms. Banister left a voice mail asking for permission to produce the requested records in list form. I agreed. In all future queries, I offered each school the option to produce its response in list form. UIUC responded on May 2.
The State of Illinois may have the best FOIA law in the country. Two weeks is a long time to wait, certainly. Out-of-state schools delayed, forgot, and extended for two months.
Iowa and Wisconsin took the longest. UW received its FOIA request on May 7 and responded on July 18. Iowa received its FOIA request on May 8 and submitted its report on July 22. In fairness to these schools, their reports were by far the most elaborate and complete. Iowa’s large PDF is here. Wisconsin’s is here.
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale refused to respond on all fronts. That’s exciting in itself. Illinois FOIA law is strict in demanding quick and non-obstructive compliance from public institutions.
I offered SIUC a mulligan on responding, attaching reports from the two other state schools to demonstrate the materials we expected to receive. In response, SIUC produced a one page document listing dates and code numbers (referencing NCAA bylaws) of its self-reports and secondary violations.
Both responses (the rejection and the submission) were snail mailed, despite my stated preference for electronic documents. Hence, it appears here as a JPEG rather than an electronic text document. Both responses were postmarked on the last available day of the statutorily mandated response window.
Most offices of University Communications (Public Relations, Department of Positive Spin, Mind Control, etc.) eagerly shared information about compliance. One Big Ten spokesman enthusiastically volunteered: “We self-report all the time!” But within that dialog, he also speculated that “self-reports” don’t go to the Committee on Infractions, but to a less ominous compliance processing office within the NCAA. We discussed this point because a compliance officer told him there weren’t any self-reports to the Infractions Committee.
“In fact, the vast majority, if not 100 percent, of what is on that list is self reported,” he wrote. “Unless the NCAA Infractions Committee is at a higher-level for more serious issues? Not sure.”
This esoteric minutiae may seem like an obvious distinction to career compliance officers. Perhaps SIUC was flummoxed by the reference to the Infractions Committee. They were also flummoxed by the third search term, sought exclusively in the FOIA inquiries to the three Illinois schools. That term was “Justin Dentmon.”
Michigan State also opted for snail mail, but their report was legible. ISU’s response, which featured the least information and the worst presentation. It was barely legible.
Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin bundled all documents into a single PDF file, a speed bump to copying and pasting. Thus, the Illinois response is broken into two slideshows (The Weber contract and compliance record) of maximized screen captures.
Also included in Illinois’ PDF were various emails that included the search terms, but held no relevant information. Minnesota’s two-page response also came in PDF format, but is easy to navigate due to its layout.
The final FOIA request again went to the University of Illinois, seeking a copy of the “mutual release” mandated by Weber’s employment contract. I submitted this FOIA query on June 15. The response arrived on June 22.