FOIAs Are Easy!
NOTE: It has come to my attention that this isn’t technically the process for FOIA requests, but rather how OSU/Oregon handles public records requests. This sort of approach is certainly worth a shot, but may require more work for different organizations/states.
This all started when a peer on the unofficial Oregon State University Computer Science Discord server requested grades from every single class offered at OSU from 2019-2021. I created osuclassdata.ethohampton.com and then once the new term rolled around, I figured that it might be a good idea to get the latest data.
This is a brief overview of how I went about my first FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act) request. Hopefully this will be a helpful reference, and show just how easy it is to complete.
The first step is to know exactly what information is wanted and in what format. I asked the original student how they worded their request and based mine off of it. It is best to be specific so the data is easier to manage on both sides.
My request went a little something like this:
I’d like to submit a Freedom Of Information Act request concerning the grade distributions by student count and letter grade for every class at OSU’s Corvallis campus, for Fall 2021.
Spreadsheet or CSV formats would be great, but also happy to take it in whatever is easiest for you. I hope these are frequent enough requests so as to be relatively low effort, but I’m happy to pay if that’s required.
This is my first FOIA request, and I appreciate the value of your time, please let me know if I’m missing anything or could phrase something better.
Probably too conversational in tone, but it gets the point across. The most important part of this request was “…the grade distributions by student count and letter grade for every class at OSU’s Corvallis campus, for Fall 2021”, which specified exactly the data I was looking for.
I also had to find the email address to send it to, which was easy to find after a bit of searching, “[email protected]”.
I got a response back about a week later saying they had received my request and that I would get the data (or a cost estimate) back in less than 2 weeks. Additionally the response confirmed that OSU was the custodian of the data and that they would be able to process it.
Then a few days after that, I got my data! It was in a spreadsheet format and seemed just fine as I initially reviewed it. I was super impressed with how easy it was to go about this process and how quick I was able to get the data back all things considered.