In previous blogs, I wrote about the University of Minnesota and its history of an expectation of transparency and a framework of accountability. In Minnesota, the University follows the same public access to information laws as other government entities, namely the Data Practices Act and the Open Meeting Law, and has had an expectation of accountability to the State Legislature ever since its founding in 1851. That’s 162 years to practice and adapt to changing public pressures and updated information technology.
Not so at the University of El Salvador, an institution with 170 years of existence without any public transparency expectation and without a framework for accountability or any mechanism for public access to its information. In the last 2 years, the new law in El Salvador has meant that UES is now obligated to disclose a significant amount of public information about its campuses, including its organizational structure, its selection procedures for employees, its annual operating plan, finance and budget information, and the UES is obligated to name an Official of Information who is responsible for complying with the law.
It has not been an easy change. Citing their decentralized structure and tight budgets, the University of El Salvador moved slowly in responding to its requirements to disclose public information, and it still is not fully compliant with the law.
On July 17, the University was fined $8,964 for failing to name a Public Information Official, as required by the law. The fine also included an additional amount for failing to disclose information requested by an employee about the development of a university sports center. (Yes, the issues down here, about the relationship of athletics to the university and its mission, sound very familiar.)
The Rector (President) of the University of El Salvador appealed the fine, but on August 13, the appeal was denied. The next week he named Karla Sofia Zamora Briones as the new Public Official for Information. On August 20, we had a meeting with her, the Rector, Carlos Ernesto Deras, the Secretary of Communications, and Dr. Ana Leticia Zavaleta de Amaya, Secretary General of the University of El Salvador.
Using the evaluation already established by ISD, I analyzed the level of compliance at UES and made recommendations about what they need to do to comply with the law. The administrators listened with interest and asked many questions about what the University of Minnesota does. ISD offered some examples of how other government entities are complying with the law, and what kind of technical assistance is available (including funding) to help.
It was a positive step forward in developing a working relationship between ISD and UES in their process of implementing the law and it was uplifting to witness this evolution and progress first-hand.