FAMU, public records, patience
Five weeks after we asked, The Gradebook finally got answers to most of the questions we asked FAMU regarding out-of-stock test forms – forms that professors need to give tests to students (which, last we checked, was part of the core teaching-and-learning mission of a university). Before we give you the answers, we think it's important to detail the process it took to get them.
Beginning on Sept. 14, a FAMU professor complained to The Gradebook several times, saying the FAMU test center was out of test forms, and that an official at Pearson – the company that supplies the forms – told the professor it was because FAMU was behind on three bills. We thought it was worth a call.
So on Sept. 27, The Gradebook called a FAMU spokesperson and asked what was going on: Was the test center really out of test forms? Was FAMU behind on its account? If so, how much does FAMU owe, how long have the bills been past due and how many professors and classes have been affected?
Getting no response, The Gradebook asked again on Sept. 27, a Friday, this time in an e-mail. On the following Monday, Oct. 1, a FAMU spokesperson called The Gradebook in the evening and left two messages. The first said she was going to look into the matter and asked for time "to really check and find out what's going on." The second said, according to Provost Barnes, that the Pearson account was up to date and the test forms were scheduled to be delivered the next day. If you want more info, the spokesperson said, just give us a call.
The following morning, Oct. 2, The Gradebook posted an item about the test forms. But since a number of basic questions were still unanswered, The Gradebook called the spokesperson back, left a message and repeated the earlier questions in another e-mail. When no response came, The Gradebook asked in writing for all Pearson bills, invoices, purchase orders and other correspondence this year.
On Oct. 3, we repeated the request in an e-mail to FAMU that outlined a half-dozen outstanding records requests. We also cc'd Pat Gleason, Gov. Charlie Crist's special counsel on open government.
On Oct. 15 – 12 days later - the requested records arrived by fax. But guess what? No info about payments to Pearson. Why? Because we didn't specifically request payments to Pearson (though we did request other correspondence). So, on Oct. 23, we requested that info. And when we didn't hear back by Nov. 5 – 13 days later - we asked again and cc'd Pat Gleason again.
The additional info arrived by fax the next day.
Now for the answers: The records show FAMU owed Pearson a total of $3,348.83, for three bills going back to Nov. 20, 2006.
The kicker: FAMU paid all three bills on Sept. 21 – six days before The Gradebook called.
Couldn't somebody at FAMU have simply explained that? So we could have all moved on?
For what it's worth, The Gradebook still has a number of outstanding records requests, including one dating to Aug. 24. The request regarding the test forms isn't the first time FAMU officials have not responded in a timely manner. And the Gradebook is the only entity that has aired this issue publicly. (See Gradebook post here.)
- Ron Matus, state education reporter