U of I continues to keep polling secret

The University of Iowa continued on Friday to refuse to make public research the university conducted into its reputation and the public’s perception of the second largest state university.

In December, the Iowa Freedom of Information Council had asked the new U of I president, J. Bruce Harreld, to reconsider the school’s refusal to release public opinion polling and focus group research conducted for the university through no-bid contracts awarded to a company owned by former Iowa Republican Party chairman Matt Strawn.

The university’s response can be read here. UI.Reply.01292016

Here is the letter the FOI Council sent to Harreld on December 30. Letter.UI.Harreld.2015

In a statement after receiving the U of I letter, Iowa FOI Council Executive Director Randy Evans said:

I am disappointed in the University of Iowa’s response to our request. But I’m not surprised. With increasing frequency the university acts as if it were a private entity, not one that belongs to the people of Iowa.

The university spent one-third of a million dollars on this polling, focus groups and other research work that looked at the public’s perception of the university and its reputation. It’s troubling that university administrators do not think the people have a right to see what the university got for its money.

To dismissively claim that there is no public interest in this is so wrong-headed. This is the second largest public university in the state. This is not a private corporation.

But it is clear that the University of Iowa feels a greater obligation to a private business, the Strawn Company, than it feels to the people of Iowa.

Evans also clarified the university’s claim that it is required by Iowa’s open records law to keep the documents in question confidential.

The section of the law cited by the university states, “The following public records shall be kept confidential, unless otherwise ordered … by the lawful custodian of the records …”

But the FOI Council, in its letter to Harreld last month, said the section of the law on which the university bases its secrecy applies not to documents belonging to government entities but to documents belonging to non-government entities that they are required by government regulators to provide to the government.

The documents in question in the FOI dispute belong to the university, Evans said, and the university could make them public if it wanted.