Grant will help Otterbein student journalists challenge limited access to campus police records

A year ago, Jordan Bradley detailed in the SPLC Report how student journalists at Otterbein University have had difficulty gaining access to campus police reports.

The troubles started in 2011, when the Ohio school’s security team was converted into a commissioned police force, said Hillary Warren, who advises The Tan & Cardinal. Then, campus police began responding to incidents that city police once handled. At first, campus police didn’t release any records, even those required under the Jeanne Clery Act, Warren told us. Then, they began compiling a daily log, as required by the Clery Act, and providing “really short, abbreviated reports.”

But that stopped in the fall of 2012. The school’s position is that because it is a private school, its police department does not have to comply with the state’s public records law, which makes incident reports and other records available from police departments elsewhere in Ohio. Otterbein student journalists have tried negotiating with campus officials, but haven’t had much luck. They’ve been considering taking legal action against the school for some time.

Which is where SPJ comes in. Today, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Legal Defense Fund announced Otterbein student journalists were the recipients of a $5,000 grant to challenge the withholding of records. SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund regularly provides financial help to journalists defending freedom of speech and press issues.

“Hiding behind a technicality is shameful, and if I were a student, or parent of a student, I would demand the same transparency that is expected of public universities,” SPJ President David Cuillier said in a statement.