In Wisconsin, we push ourselves toward openness… And that’s good.

Wisconsin is a great place to live and work and not just because of the bucolic landscapes and good people. The state has a tradition of keeping this transparent, and there may be no better example of it than Wisconsin Public Records law.
UW Oshkosh Director of Administrative Computing and Networking Mark Clements and I had an opportunity to, this past month, welcome in colleagues from several different campus departments to an Integrated Marketing and Communications “Champion Chat” – monthly conversations about the work we do and other topics and trends in higher education.

This time around, we zoomed in on public records – what they are, what they aren’t and how everybody can always better understand the standards and, in the process, strive to live by the letter and spirit of the law. Again, in Wisconsin, the provisions are designed to really push keepers of these records to maintain as much access as possible and to be swift in responding to people requesting that access. As Universities are places/resources of open and informed dialogue, so are public records.

The Champion Chat was a unique opportunity for me to – hopefully for the betterment of my modern-day colleagues – reflect a bit on my past career. I was a newspaper journalist for nearly a decade, and the state’s public records law was, and is, a revered tool for that profession. It gives reporters (and anybody, for that matter) the opportunity to examine things like a public institution’s deeper budget data, certain electronic records and even, to an extent, student grades and performance benchmarks (provided we keep personal information out of public view).

Mark provided great insight on an often blurry line. With digital communication and records-production increasing daily, it’s always a bit of a riddle as to what is and isn’t a public record once it washes through, say, our University servers or network. Mark – clementsm@uwosh.edu — is a great resource to help get questions answered when colleagues run into an unclear or gray area about public records. And, since I’m UW Oshkosh’s records custodian, you can also reach out to me when public records requests come in or if you encounter questions: hummela@uwosh.edu.

Bottom line: The law is a powerful tool. And it is one to heed and use with respect.

Some tips:
  • Always best to remember that your electronic communications (both emails and chats) are, in most ways, public records when generated at a public campus.
  • Strive for openness in all things. If you have a question about whether a record will or won’t be public, assume it will be. It’s the right thing to do.
  • Don’t forget to keep the openness ethic part of meetings, too. When applicable, Wisconsin law advises meeting holders within public organizations to keep the invites and doors open. So, do all you can to promote meetings by appropriately publishing notices and sharing them at multiple points around the organization. … It’s not an Open Records provision, but it is the fundamental idea within the state’s Open Meetings law.

There are undoubtedly and understandably folks who didn’t get to make our Champion Chat. So, let me encourage them (and you) to check out the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Public Records Guide, or “Compliance Outline.

Sounds daunting, but it is actually a very approachable and readable rundown of all-things public records in a state that, responsibly so, treats them like the valuable resources they are.
  • CLICK HERE  to launch over to the state DOJ’s guide.

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