By: Cody Boteler, Senior Editor
UPDATE: The Towerlight received a letter from the University at 4:13 p.m. today, Nov. 10, saying that our request to waive the fees has been accepted. We will provide information as we get it.
Hey, Towson community. Did you know that the University wants me to pay over $2,000 for access to public records?
I know. Crazy, right? Let me explain a bit.
A smartphone was found in the women’s swimming and diving team locker room almost a month ago, Oct. 16. We reported on it the next day. When more than a week passed without any important updates, I filed a Maryland Public Information Act request on behalf of The Towerlight. I filed my request Oct. 26.
Maryland’s public information law allows members of the public to request access to any sort of record or document created or maintained by a government body or public institution. The federal government has a similar law.
There are, of course, exemptions. Not every document has to be released and parts can be redacted, for a variety of reasons.
I requested copies of emails sent between members of administration, the police department and the athletics department. It is not an uncommon move for journalists to request access to emails that are sent to and from public officials and employees.
My hope in submitting the request was that I would be see some emails that shed some light on the situation – who was or may have been responsible, what the University was doing about it, why the investigation was being handled entirely by TUPD, that sort of thing – since nobody from TU has said much of anything.
Ten days later, I received a letter from one of Towson’s lawyers, Barbara English.
The letter told me that the costs of compiling the records I requested would run between $2,280-2,453.07 and that it would take between 50-55 working hours.
There’s no way it would take more than a few hours for someone in OTS to run a few keyword searches and compile all the emails that match the request I made. There’s no way it would take more than a couple of hours for a lawyer to redact things from those emails.
Yeah. 55 hours is a ridiculous estimate of time. Even more ridiculous, though, is the $2,000 fee that I was told I’d have to pay.
Do you know what I could do with $2,200?
I could pay rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Baltimore City for two months.
I could buy about 30 weeks worth of groceries, assuming $75 a trip.
I could buy an Xbox One, a Playstation 4, a Wii U, a Macbook Air and still have $248 left over.
I could buy 1,004 gallons of gas from the Royal Farms on Joppa Road.
I could buy 73 floor tickets to see Fetty Wap in January, when CAB brings him to campus.
There’s a lot I could do with over $2,000. Instead, the University wants me to pay that much to look at a few public-record emails.
I’ve got some problems with that.
I’ll start with the legal argument. Maryland’s public information law does say that requesters can be charged for the time spent finding and preparing documents and for printing costs.
However, the law also says that those charges can be waived if the person requesting information is doing so “in the public interest.”
A nonprofit, student-run newspaper that’s requesting information about criminal activity at a public university? That sounds like the public interest to me.
Let’s go a bit further than that, though. Ethically, is it at all right for a public institution to charge me, a tax-and-tuition paying student for access to public information?
I pay the University over $9,000 each year for tuition and other fees – thank god for my Honors College scholarship that helps pay a lot of that – and I spend my time actively trying to make this campus a better place.
I have formally requested that the fees be waived. I have not yet received a response from the University.
At this point, it’s ridiculous that we don’t know more about what happened in that locker room. It’s ridiculous that nobody has been reprimanded. The University has not handled this situation well, and charging one of their students over $2,000 to try and find out some more information shows a continued mishandling of the situation.