Student paper gets teacher evaluations through FOI request

OHIO — Editors at a student newspaper plan to file a second Freedom of Information request after their first request yielded nearly 4,000 pages of information last week in a format they say “not everyone can access.” The editors said they are looking for a searchable database, but university officials say they handed over everything they had.

A reporter at The Lantern, the daily student newspaper at Ohio State University, filed the first records request in early February. The request asked for the student evaluations of instructors from the fall semester for a feature story on, a site where students can post ratings and opinions about university professors.

The school “fully complied” with the information request, said Shelly Hoffman, spokeswoman for the university. “It wasn’t a big deal,” she said, of the university’s willingness to comply.

But Lantern staff members said they were “slightly frustrated” with the form the information took — a PDF file of about 3,800 pages of data from the student evaluations of every Ohio State professor.

J.D. Settles, news editor for The Lantern, said the instructor evaluations are not listed alphabetically, and the PDF file is only searchable with certain computer software.

“We talked about it here, and thought, ‘They must have it in another form,’” Settles said. “’It might seem like they are pulling something over on us.’”

But Hoffman said the evaluation files do not exist in a database format. She said the university is currently working to find a way to make the files “more useable” to the campus community. There seems to be a misunderstanding about the existence of a database, she said. When the PDF file was posted on the newspaper’s Web site Wednesday, the file received only 500 hits, said Internet editor Adam Ross. Another headline story about the university athletic center received more than 2,000 hits. The lukewarm response was “surprising,” he said.

“We expected a lot of fallout,” Ross said.

Lantern campus editor Ryan Merrill said the 500 hits to the file were surprisingly low for a front-page article. Merrill said it has been difficult to analyze the evaluation forms in the current format.

“It’s processed data, but it’s all lumped together,” said Settles, the news editor. “It’s searchable to an extent, but it’s going to be hard to compile data … like the top ten professors.”

Merril said the newspaper has plans to break down the information and highlight different portions in a weekly series of articles. In addition, a reporter is working to file a second information request to find out if the university is keeping the information in a database format, Merrill said.

Ross, the Internet editor, said the newsroom was pleased it was even able to get the evaluations. “We wished [the university] could cooperate,” he said. “But I think it’s a success, regardless of how many hits the file gets.”

by Allison Retka, SPLC staff writer