UCF Student Media Outlet Sues Its University….

Um, wow….

Student media outlet Knight News sued UCF and its president, John C. Hitt, on Feb. 21, claiming the university violated public records acts and sunshine laws.

According to a PDF of the lawsuit on Knight News’ website, the student media group listed 10 alleged violations including public records request denials involving UCF and SGA, as well as violations of the sunshine laws.

In response to the closure of the Feb. 15 Sigma Chi fraternity suspension hearing, Knight News is looking for ratification of the current denial status of public and media access to observe such hearings.

According to an email written by Knight News’ attorney Justin Hemlepp, this lawsuit is about protecting the public’s rights under Florida laws.

“The public doesn’t know how UCF has been handling these hearings, and that is exactly the point of our lawsuit: to open these hearings to the sunshine so the public can see how the university is making these decisions,” Hemleppsaid.

More here.

Nice FOI get by the Texas student paper…

The Daily Texan broke some news today thanks to some reporter’s brilliantly simple FOI request:

Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite engaged in “inappropriate, consensual behavior with an adult student” in 2009, according to a statement released by UT men’s head athletics director DeLoss Dodds on Friday night.

The incident took place during the 2009 Fiesta Bowl, when Applewhite served as running backs coach. The identity of the student was not revealed…

The story was made possible thanks to an FOI request for a letter from UT’s athletic director to Applewhite outlining his punishment for the incident: the department froze Applewhite’s salary for the rest of the year and required him to schedule an initial session with a licensed professional counselor.

In Wyoming, university secrecy at any cost?

I’ll never quite get the secrecy argument where university presidential searches are concerned. These are huge taxpayer bills, and the chief executive officer of a public university seems to me to owe the public the opportunity to weigh in…

The Wyoming Legislature apparently disagrees with me entirely:

A state judge’s ruling last week that the University of Wyoming must make public documents containing the identities of the school’s presidential search finalists might become void if the state’s lawmakers approve newly introduced legislation.

On Thursday, one day after the state judge’s ruling, lawmakers introduced a bill that would keep documents related to presidential searches secret. The bill was unanimously passed out of committee today in Wyoming’s House of Representatives.

It’s not clear how the proposed legislation would affect the judge’s ruling. In his ruling, Judge Jeffrey Donnell set a Feb. 5 deadline for the university to release the finalists’ names.

Chad Baldwin, the university’s director of institutional communications, said if HB 223 becomes a law, it would prevent the finalists’ names from being released. Bruce Moats, an attorney who represented the media, called that a “$24 million question” and said he’s doing research to determine whether the law would override the judge’s ruling.

The bill, which amends the state’s public record inspection statute, would definitely affect future presidential searches at the University of Wyoming and community colleges in the state. All records or information relating to the search process would be made private if their release would identify a candidate.

In November, The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, The Casper Star-Tribune and The Associated Press filed a lawsuit against the university and its board of trustees seeking get access to documents including meeting schedules and itineraries that would reveal finalists’ names, Casper Star-Tribune Editor Darrell Ehrlick said.

Ah, the Quirky World of Big-Time College Football Coaches

USA Today did a great FOI-driven sports story looking at the crazy stuff included in coaches’ contracts….

USA TODAY Sports reporters and editors analyzed thousands of documents in calculating salaries for the 124 FBS head coaches and nearly 1,000 assistants.

While combing through contract after contract – after contract after contract – we also came across a few interesting contractual “quirks.” Some involve relationships with supermarket chains, golf clubs and gun shops. Others are bonuses that can be earned by reaching certain on- and off-field goals. Here are a few examples:

Texas coach Mack Brown:

Brown was paid $60,000 to serve as the chairman of the board for the University of Texas Golf Club. While it’s a pittance compared to his football earnings, Brown’s off-the-field benefits also included a $750 gift card to McBride’s Guns in Austin.

And this gem:

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian:

The university pays the cost of having Sarkisian’s family travel to all away football games, all postseason events in which the football team participates and two additional business-related trips each fiscal year if he so elects.

Poor guy needs travel money….

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Nice little FOI-driven daily story on the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry ending on the gridiron. Wish that folks would add a “MADE POSSIBLE BY OPEN RECORDS…” button on these stories.

Notre Dame is opting out of its series with Michigan, meaning the last scheduled game between college football’s winningest programs will take place in 2014.

A letter from Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick to Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon cancelling games in 2015-17 was obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Brandon told the AP he was handed the letter on the field in South Bend, Ind., about an hour before Saturday night’s game.

“I put the letter in my pocket and didn’t bother to read it right away because I was focused on the game we were about to play,” Brandon said. “I read it on the way home Sunday morning.”

More here.

FOI At Work: The List of Institutions Who Can Fly Drones

Now, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the FAA has released a list of institutions that have asked for Certificates of Authorizations (COA) to fly drones in the United States.

That fact that the U.S. Air Force, DARPA and Department of Homeland Security are flying drones is no surprise. But what about the other institutions on the list?

It includes a number of universities from all over the country, including Cornell University, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State University and Eastern Gateway Community College. It makes sense for universities to have access to U.S. airspace to fly drones — after all, they are the ones doing a lot of the research on new drone technologies, so they might as well be able to test their own creations near campus.

More ominous is the list of local police forces given the green light to fly drones: Arlington, Houston, North Little Rock, Miami-Dade County, Seattle, Polk County, FL and Gadsden, AL.

Read more: http://techland.time.com/2012/04/23/faa-reveals-list-of-colleges-and-police-departments-that-can-fly-drones/#ixzz1svbVViOR

From Canada, another FOI dispute on campus…

From our neighbors to the north comes a fresh academic freedom/FOI dispute:

Amir Attaran speaking at an H1N1 conference at...

Amir Attaran speaking at an H1N1 conference at the University of Ottawa/ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A prominent University of Ottawa law professor has launched a grievance against a school administrator after she agreed to release documents related to his research under the province’s freedom of information law.

Professor Amir Attaran is outraged that the university would so readily abandon its defence of academic freedom.

Diane Davidson, the university’s vice-president of governance, told Attaran last week that the school had decided to accede to an order from the province’s Information and Privacy Commissioner to produce the professor’s research-related expense reports.

Davidson refused Attaran’s demand that the university contest the production order in court.

“The defence of confidential information, within the limits prescribed by law, is a cornerstone of the academic freedom to conduct research,” Attaran writes in his notice of grievance. “It is disappointing that Ms. Davidson has chosen not to protect that freedom to the utmost.”

In an interview Wednesday, Attaran said the unredacted documents being released contained his credit card number, his home address and the address of his parents.

“It’s quite disgusting,” he said.

Davidson did not return a phone call Wednesday requesting comment.

Attaran has been a thorn in the side of the federal Conservative government for years, waging a series of successful court battles to gain access to documents related to the treatment of Afghan detainees.

Last week, he won another round in that fight in the Supreme Court of Canada.

His work, which relies on federal access to information legislation, has put him in the national spotlight.

It has also made him the subject of information requests, presumably from political enemies hoping to damage his credibility.

University administrators, he said, had in the past protected him from requests for performance evaluations and expense reports.

In January, however, a series of sweeping information requests were filed. One demanded the subject line of all of his emails addressed to Parliament, the CBC or the Liberal Party.

Another requested all documents about him releasable under the freedom of information law.

Attaran believes the requests were politically motivated.

He wants the university to comply with the provincial access to information law in his case. But that law, Attaran said, includes an “exclusion” that places all records associated with a university professor’s research outside the reach of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

What’s more, he said, the law gives administrators the right to demand that any examination of records by the commissioner be done at the university.

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FOI At Work: A Fascinating Look at Mizzou’s Move to the SEC…

Right here in my backyard, a really interesting look at the diplomacy, and lack thereof, in big-time college athletics:

In November, Big 12 interim Commissioner Chuck Neinas steeled for battle as the conference that was temporarily placed in his hands continued to fracture. His secret weapon would be a legal document that he could “wave around” in a meeting with Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive with the goal of keeping Missouri in the Big 12.

The lawsuit, slated to be filed in Boone County Circuit Court, never came to pass. But the 12-page draft of a petition for injunctive relief was obtained by the Tribune this month. It charged the SEC with illegally enticing Missouri to breach its contractual commitment to the Big 12 — an effort the suit states was “willful, deliberate and in bad faith” and the cause of “irreparable injury to the Big 12 for which money damages is not an adequate remedy.”

The draft requested an injunction to bar the SEC from accepting Missouri before June 30, 2016, the final day of the current Big 12 member agreement.

Exemption for professors dies a quiet death in Maryland…

A bill introduced in the General Assembly to shield professors at state universities from politics-driven public record requests has been withdrawn after its House sponsor concluded no new law was needed.

The Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association, which had opposed the bill at public hearings, hailed the decision by Del. Sandy Rosenberg as “good news.”

Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat, had introduced a bill that would have broadened the categories of information that universities could deny in response to requests under the state’s Public Information Act.

He said the legislation was prompted in part by a case in Wisconsin where the state Republican Party sought the emails of aUniversity of Wisconsin history professor in an attempt to show he had misused his position to intervene in a nationally watched dispute in that state over the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

Once released, the emails failed to support the GOP’s suspicions, but some academics said such requests could have a chilling effect on professors who wanted to weigh in on public issues. Rosenberg said the purpose of his bill was to protect academic freedom from “requests that appear very political in nature.”

John J. Murphy, executive director of the press association, said his group — which represents media outlets including The Baltimore Sun — thought the bill went too far.

“We thought the current law as it now stands protects academics from harassment,” he said.

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University Systems in Delaware Might Be Dragged into the Sunshine…

The Delaware General Assembly meet in the Legi...

Image via Wikipedia

From Delaware Online comes some good legislative news:

The University of Delaware and Delaware State University would be forced to lift a cloak of secrecy surrounding their operations under a bill expected to be introduced in the General Assembly today.

Citing several recent gripes with each university, a contingent of lawmakers wants to redefine UD and DSU as “public bodies,” which would force them to comply with all provisions of the state’s Freedom ofInformation Act.

The bill’s primary sponsor, state Rep. John Kowalko, said the two schools need to operate with more transparency in light of controversies over construction on each campus as well as UD’s decision to disband its men’s track and cross-country teams.

“They can’t be private one day and public the next,” said Kowalko, D-Newark-South. “We give them entirely too much money that we cannot track.”

Then it gets really interesting:

Since 1990, the state’s FOIA requirements have included exclusions written specifically for UD and DSU. Under the current law, only meetings of the full board of trustees must be conducted in public. By that point, most votes taken are unanimous. The committees of each board, whose members discuss major decisions in more detail, meet in private. The schools are obligated to disclose only how they spend state-appropriated money and do not release records related to privately raised funds.

Wow….that is amazing! I’d LOVE to know how such exemptions came to be — and what the legislative climate was like that would almost wholly protect an entire university system from any meaningful scrutiny…

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Kowalko said UD did not sufficiently disclose its decision-making process for ending the track team, while labor unions have complained it should provide a more thorough accounting of the building contracts it awards, many of which have gone to non-union or out-of-state firms.

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