Following are responses to common questions about public records at the University.
What is a public record?
A “public record” refers to any record created or received in conducting University business, in whatever format, including but not limited to paper, photographs, recordings, emails or digital images, unless an exception applies under federal or state law.
How do I submit a public records request?
In most cases, visit the University’s online public records portal at https://nextrequest.unc.edu/. For specific records such as student information, HR records, or public safety records visit the Request page for contact information.
I’m an employee at UNC-Chapel Hill. How should I respond to a public records request?
UNC-Chapel Hill employees who receive a public records request from an individual should forward the request to the appropriate contact and respond to the requester with the appropriate contact information. University employees unsure of the appropriate office or contact should contact the Public Records Office.
Is the University permitted to withhold some records?
Two of the most common exceptions involve the University’s legal responsibility to protect the privacy rights of students, faculty and staff under federal and state law. Examples of protected information include a student’s academic work or personnel records about an employee’s work performance.
The principal laws covering these exceptions are the:
- Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, 920 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99)
- North Carolina Public Records Act, (N.C.G.S. Chapter 132)
- North Carolina Human Resources Act, (N.C.G.S. Chapter 126)
What information about an employee is considered public?
Under state law, the following information about an employee may be released:
- Age (not date of birth)
- Date of original employment or appointment
- Terms of any contract by which the employee is employed whether written or oral, past and current
- Current position
- Current salary
- Date and amount of each increase or decrease in salary
- Date and type of each promotion, demotion, transfer, suspension, separation, or other change in position classification at the University
- General description of the reasons for each promotion
- Date and type of each dismissal, suspension, or demotion for disciplinary reasons. If the disciplinary action was a dismissal, a copy of the written notice of the final decision of the head of the department setting forth the specific acts or omissions that are the basis of the dismissal
- Office to which the employee is currently assigned (work contact information is available on the University’s online directory)
Any additional information regarding employees not listed above is considered confidential under state law unless otherwise authorized by the State Human Resources Act. For additional context about personnel records and the confidentiality of personnel information, refer to http://hr.unc.edu/policies-procedures-systems/spa-employee-policies/personnel-information/personnel-records-and-confidentiality-of-personnel-information/
How long will it take for the University to respond to a records request?
The response time will vary on a case-by-case basis. The University will respond as systematically as possible based on factors including the availability of records, the complexity of the request, the volume of materials involved, the number of requests ahead of it in the queue, the priority order of the request in cases in which a requester has submitted multiple requests, and the time required to review the materials for possible redactions to protect the privacy rights of students or employees or other information deemed confidential under federal or state law.
The process of gathering potential public records often involves queries to multiple individuals and units across the University as part of a good-faith effort to identify all responsive records including email correspondence, memos, budget materials and the like.
Under North Carolina law, the University must produce the public records “as promptly as possible.” There is often a misconception that state law requires copies of public information to be produced within 10 days upon receipt of the written request. That is not the case. What is considered “as promptly as possible” will vary depending on the volume of documents sought by the requester. In certain cases, the records can be produced in fewer than 10 days. However, large or complex requests may take much longer to fulfill.
How does the University prioritize requests and responses?
Under the University’s policy, we place the highest priority on requests from North Carolina citizens and North Carolina news media outlets.
Generally, the University processes public records requests on a first-in, first-out basis. The University reserves the right to make exceptions when deemed essential.
When portions of a request response are available, we generally provide those in installments as available. Some requesters who have made large-volume requests may receive multiple partial responses over time.
What fees may be charged for processing a public records request?
Under the North Carolina Public Records Act, public agencies are authorized to charge minimal fees to cover the actual cost of reproducing public records or public information.
The University may charge a fee for searching for, gathering, and copying documents that are public records. Copying costs are charged at 10 cents per black-and-white page after the first 50 pages for requesters who ask for hard copies.
Requesters will be notified in advance of any service fees that will be assessed for cases involving extensive information technology resources or extensive clerical or supervisory assistance exceeding more than four hours. The hourly rate is $18. However, the time spent for identifying and gathering the records, or information from existing public records, will be included.
The Public Records staff will provide a requester with a written estimate and ask if he or she agrees to pay the charge. The requester may also choose to narrow the scope of the request. The University may not include the actual cost of redacting legally privileged or confidential information in calculating the service fee. However, the time spent for identifying and gathering potential public records will be included.
In adopting the current policy in June 2013, the University drew from similar provisions in the policies for UNC General Administration, N.C. State and UNC-Wilmington. Some other UNC campuses also charge requesters for large volumes of public records.
Can I inspect a public record in person?
The University is required to provide an opportunity for inspection and examination of its public records during normal business hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding holidays). The University may set parameters for how inspections occur to protect those records and to not disrupt campus operations. Alternative arrangements will be necessary in cases in which original documents include protected or confidential information.