Kathy McCarthy, University Relations
Name: Kathy McCarthy, Assistant Director for FOIA Administration
Office: University Relations
Office Reports to: Office of the President
In Sum: Coordination of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for the University
What exactly does the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) obligate the University to do?
Under FOIA, all citizens have a right to access public records. Because the University is a public body, it is subject to this statute. Once a person submits a request to access certain records, we have five days to search, gather, and review the requested material. In certain limited circumstances, we may legally withhold certain information in University documents, but most records must be provided to a requestor. In 2013, the U of I provided almost 70,000 pages of documents in response to FOIA requests.
How is a FOIA processed and what role do you play?
University Relations assumed overall, University-wide coordination of FOIA processing in 2011 upon a recommendation in the Administrative Review and Restructuring final report. Our office takes in and logs all requests. I assign each to a coordinator, who contacts the office with responsive records and reviews and redacts according to the Act. I review all the records that are released as well as our response letters, coordinate with University legal counsel, serve as the liaison with the Public Access Counselor in the Attorney General’s office, and provide training on compliance with FOIA to groups and units across the University.
How many people work full-time responding to FOIAs?
I am the only U of I employee who works full-time responding to FOIAs. Fortunately I work with a great team of four – two in University Relations, one in Urbana, and one in Chicago – who coordinate FOIA records collection and review as one part of their job responsibilities. Of course, U of I employees across the institution provide records in response to requests. We could not comply with the law without their prompt cooperation.
How many FOIA requests did the U of I receive in 2013? Are they mostly from the media?
We received 621 requests in 2013. Of that number, 130 were from members of the media. Interestingly, we have found that the vast majority of requests received by the University are submitted by private citizens. The most commonly requested documents tend to be campus police reports and procurement records.
Are there particular times of the year when your office is most busy?
FOIA requests aren’t really seasonal. We have a steady flow throughout the year. We do see spikes when a hot topic is in the media.
Where did you work before you joined the U of I? Did you work on FOIAs there?
Before joining the U of I in 2011, I was an attorney in a private law firm that represented many municipalities, school districts, and community college districts in suburban Cook County. At that firm, I provided advice to clients on a variety of legal issues, including FOIA compliance.
Anything else we should know?
Yes! If you ever receive a FOIA request directly, please forward it on to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will take care of it. If you have questions, call me at 217-333-6400.