Daily Nebraskan resolves issues over open records requests with university

NEBRASKA — A recent dispute that had the University ofNebraska-Lincoln’s administration giving the silent treatment to the DailyNebraskan, the school’s newspaper, may have been resolved.

Talks and e-mails between UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman and DailyNebraskan Editor in Chief Brian Hernandez appear to have smoothed relationsbetween the university and paper. The two have been at odds over numerousrequests for public records made by the newspaper to the university.

“Chancellor Harvey Perlman and I have reached a resolution that willre-establish the open relationship between the administration and the DailyNebraskan,” Hernandez said in an e-mail.

At the beginning of the school year, the Daily Nebraskan‘s Projectsdesk requested multiple records from the university, including e-mailsconcerning the removal of two wrestlers from the wrestling team as well as alist of all Freedom of Information requests made to the university in the pastfour years.

The university did not see the point of the FOI requests and asked that theDaily Nebraskan be more specific with its requests. The newspaperrefused, saying it was within its rights to ask for all the informationrequested. The Chancellor’s office instructed administrators not to talk toDaily Nebraskan reporters.

In a staff editorial published on Sept. 17, the Nebraskan staffasserted the legitimacy of their requests and said that the university’s refusalto speak to their reporters was unfair considering the administration was stillspeaking to other local newspapers.

“The documents we’ve requested are public records by all legal standards,and the press has the right — just as our readers and other citizens do

— to see these documents,” the editorial said. “From the behavior of theadministrators, they seem to see things differently.”

The university contends that the document requests were too broad, and thatthe newspaper responded to requests for specificity with argumentative phonecalls and e-mails.

“At no time were we standing in the way of them getting the records thatthey were desiring,” said Kelly Bartling, UNL spokeswoman and news manager forUniversity Communications. “We were attempting to help them refine the requeststo get the records that would be useful to them in writing their stories, butthe manner in which they were communicating about what they needed, and theamount of e-mails and letters and phone calls that they were sending, was makingit impossible for us to apparently get them what they needed.”

UNL staff member and Daily Nebraskan general manager Daniel Shattilsaid while the newspaper is pursuing the request for past FOI requests, therequest for e-mails related to the wrestling team has been put off too long andis no longer newsworthy.

“From our perspective the requests were kind of ignored,” Shattil said. “From the university’s perspective, they are in compliance with the open recordslaw.”

After nearly a week of silence between the newspaper and theadministration, Hernandez and Perlman met on Sept. 23 and discussed the FOIrequests and how the Daily Nebraskan and the university could workthrough the conflict.

“Perlman and I agreed that we both want to re-establish an openrelationship between the Daily Nebraskan and the administration,”Hernandez said in an e-mail.

He said that he had explained the purpose of the requests to Perlman andthat the chancellor had been receptive. By late Wednesday night, Perlman hade-mailed him saying that the administration “will try to be reasonably availablefor interviews to DN reporters.”

“I’m pleased with the outcome,” Hernandez added in an e-mail. “With thisopen access, we’ll be able to interview vital campus voices again and obtaindocuments needed to inform our readers about important issues.”

Shattil agreed that the conflict seemed to be resolved “for now.”

“We’re all hopeful that the situation has been resolved and we can moveforward with business as usual,” Bartling said.