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State Law, Policy, and Access to Information: The Case of Mandated Openness in Higher Education


by Michael K. McLendon & James C. Hearn 2010

Background/Context: Every state in the nation has legal requirements, state sunshine laws, to ensure accountability and fairness in institutions receiving state funds and operating under state authority. These laws have come to significantly influence the ways in which the business of higher education is conducted.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This reflective essay provides perspective on laws mandating openness in higher education. It describes differences in the laws across states, reports select findings from a study on the impacts of the laws on public colleges and universities, and examines some of the implications of the contemporary debate over access to information on public campuses.

Research Design: The article builds on a previous field study of state sunshine laws that included site visits to six states and interviews with nearly 100 officials with firsthand perspective on the laws.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Information resources have expanded tremendously, yet the nature and extent of their availability to the larger public remain in question. How can deeply held values of openness and access be accommodated productively to privacy and security concerns, with minimal threats to each? The article seeks to contribute to a growing body of literature on information policy and its uses in society, in this case, how the public information laws of state governments influence the climate of data access and decision-making in public higher education.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 10, 2010, p. 2649-2663
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15883, Date Accessed: 3/23/2017 6:27:17 AM

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About the Author
  • Michael McLendon
    Vanderbilt University
    E-mail Author
    MICHAEL K. MCLENDON is associate professor of public policy and higher education at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. His PhD is from the University of Michigan in higher education policy. His research and teaching focus on state policy and politics of higher education. His recent work includes studies of the factors driving reforms in state postsecondary governance and in state financing policies.
  • James Hearn
    University of Georgia
    JAMES C. HEARN is professor of higher education at the University of Georgia. His PhD is from Stanford University in the sociology of education. His research and teaching focus on postsecondary education organization and policy. In recent work, he has examined the emergence and impacts of state policies in higher education; the development of new models for higher education organization and governance; faculty workforce issues in colleges and universities; and trends toward marketization and performance accountability in postsecondary systems and institutions.
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