‘Students Speak, Change Happens’: OU & OSU to Release Parking Ticket Records

Parking ticket records at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University will be released to the press at their request. All it took was a lawsuit, an 18-month stalemate, a special front-page editorial and a student newspaper preparing to legally fight against the school which partially funds it.

As I previously posted, in May 2013, Joey Stipek, an OU student and current Oklahoma Daily special projects editor, filed a lawsuit against university president David Boren and Open Records Office director Rachel McCombs. The suit alleged that the school repeatedly, and illegally, rebuffed his efforts to acquire “records he believes are public” and potentially newsworthy.

As Stipek wrote prior to the lawsuit, “OU gave out almost 52,000 parking citations last year, then dismissed almost a third of them. But you won’t find out here whether athletes, student leaders, faculty or any other special interest group got special treatment.  The reason?  OU won’t release the records.”

Two days ago, the OU Daily dropped an editorial bombshell across its entire front page: The paper was planning to join Stipek’s suit.

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As a portion of the editorial contended, “This lawsuit isn’t merely about finding out who is getting parking tickets — it’s about a public institution denying access to records and citing an act that does not apply. While we don’t have a reason to believe OU has anything to hide in these parking ticket records, there is no way to know until the records are released.”

Cue a huge change of heart among the OU administration. Was it the power of the editorial? Its front-page prominence? The threat of a looming, much more public lawsuit? A far-too-long-delayed grasping of the obvious? Regardless, only hours after the issue sporting the Daily’s editorial appeared across campus — and a year and a half after nothing but silence and stonewalling — OU president Boren suddenly responded with dramatic decisiveness. He called for the immediate release of the requested records and declared them public moving forward.

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Why the uber-fast about-face? I asked Stipek. His take:

“I think the Daily joining the lawsuit had a lot to do with it. I think, at the same time, President Boren has shown a history of listening to student voices. I think when you have the most powerful student voice on campus saying this is important, it becomes hard to ignore. Lawsuits are also expensive. I think this could have become more costly to the university as it continued to drag on and they lost.”

1I also checked in with Stipek about where this leaves the battle he began in spring 2013. In his words: “It’s a victory. It ends this fight. The Daily is going to file for these records [the parking tickets] to see if any special treatment is being granted at OU. Unfortunately, student parking tickets are still cited as FERPA protected records at our rival institution, Oklahoma State University, or even at University of Missouri. It’s my sincere hope students at both those institutions file and fight for those records and write stories.”

Moments after he wrote those words, O’Colly editor-in-chief Catherine Sweeney at OSU tweeted similarly nice news: OSU will also release its parking ticket records.

Bottom line, as the header of a related Daily special report confirms, “Students Speak, Change Happens.”

Related

Former OU Daily Editor Files Lawsuit Against University of Oklahoma Over Student Parking Tickets

 

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