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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