Climate Scientist Prevails in FOI Battle at UVA

Climate scientist Michael Mann reported Monday that he and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville have prevailed in a court case against the conservative American Tradition Institute (ATI), which had sought access to emails he wrote while serving as a professor at the school from 1999-2005.

Now at the Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Mann says the ruling supports the University of Virginia’s argument than an exemption to the state’s freedom-of-information law “applies to faculty communications in furtherance of their work”. The Prince William County Circuit Court ruling came directly from the bench in and was not immediately available online.

“This finding is a potentially important precedent, as ATI and other industry-backed front groups continue to press their attacks on climate scientist through the abuse of public records and FOIA laws and the issuing of frivolous and vexatious demands for internal scholarly deliberations and personal correspondences,” Mann said in an announcement on his Facebook page.

The University of Virginia initially signed an agreement with ATI that would have granted ATI officials access to the emails, but at a contentious hearing in November 2011 university officials changed course and decided to fight. At the same hearing, Mann prevailed in his effort to formally join the lawsuit and defend himself alongside the university (see Climate scientist wins his day in court).

More here.

NC Court Rules on UNC NCAA Investigation Records…

Here is a really excellent, detailed blog post on the recent NCAA records ruling involving the scandal in the University of North Carolina athletic department:

North Carolina Superior Court Judge Howard Manning recently ruled on the scope of protection for documents related to the highly-publicized investigation of irregularities in the University of North Carolina football program. The Court held that the majority of communications among attorneys are protected from disclosure, but that other categories of investigative documents must be disclosed as public records of a public agency. The Court also ruled that portions of former UNC football coach Butch Davis’ personal cell phone records must be disclosed.  The Court’s rulings are available here and here, and a discussion of a subsequent order entered by the Court is linked here.

FERPA interpretations differ from school to school…

A Mizzou J-Schooler, Allison Prang, did a fine job on the subject of FERPA inconsistencies, in a piece for the Kansas City Star.

Her lede:

If you’re a student at a Kansas college or university, you don’t need to worry about your school giving your contact information to companies that want to sell you their products or services.

It’s illegal.

But if you’re a student at a college or university in Missouri, you just might need to be concerned.

Companies and outside organizations frequently request broad lists of directory information from schools

In Missouri there are no prohibitions against using it for marketing aimed at students. Companies and organizations that ask for the information include test preparation, graduation announcement and textbook businesses.

In Kansas, though directory information is still considered a public record, the state Open Records Acts bars people from using it for solicitations.

The most daunting day-to-day obstacle to FOI: money…

A pal of mine at the Columbia Daily Tribune offers a timely reminder of the frustrations requesters face daily when seeking information….

UM President Tim Wolfe has had some 90 suggestions sent to him through the online suggestion box he launched late last month.

I know this because I put in a Sunshine Law request for them. And, once again, university officials are asking the Tribune to pay for the time they say is needed to separate anything that might be exempted from the open records law.

The total charge for my request is $55.30.

That includes $9.75 for 10 minutes to locate the information. How do they come up with that? Apparently, they’re going to ask someone who makes $50.70 an hour to find the records (which are all sent through one online portal).

Then, they want 10 cents a page for the 90 e-mails for copying costs, even though I don’t want paper but rather emails so I’m not sure what “copies” they’re referring to.

What we’re not willing to pay for is the $36.55 they say is needed to separate closed and open records. That’s because we do not believe the law requires the public or news outlet making a request to pay for separating closed material from open documents.

 

The academic FOI request blowback makes its way to the UK…

File this one under “it was bound to happen…”

A cross-party group of MPs has recommended a change in the law to prevent unpublished research data being released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The exemption should be introduced to “protect ongoing research”, the Justice Committee said in a report, Post-Legislative Scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, that was released yesterday.

Universities UK has been campaigning for such a change to the act on a number of grounds.

It has argued that researchers could use information gained from an FoI request to “scoop” data from rivals and beat them to publication, undermining the incentive for research.

It has also warned that businesses could use the act to access valuable research being conducted by commercial competitors and universities before patents can be taken out.

UUK has also raised the prospect that data could be released and then misinterpreted and misused by the public before it has been subjected to scholarly analysis and peer review.

Scotland has a specific exemption for pre-publication research.

Paul Gibbons, a Freedom of Information campaigner and author of the FOI Man blog, said that he thought there was “no real need” for a new exemption because “existing exemptions could be utilised” to protect research. Nevertheless, he added: “I can’t see it doing much harm.”

Public Records As Trade Secrets?

Wow, this is horrible precedent: publicly generated records as trade secrets.

Public universities can withhold records, including lists of season ticket holders, as trade secrets, the Connecticut Supreme Courtruled Tuesday.

Former state Rep. Jonathan Pelto submitted a freedom of information request for database information from the University of Connecticut in 2008. The request included the athletic department’s season ticket purchasers, the performing arts database of subscribers and ticket buyers, the Center for Continuing Studies’ database of people interested in programs offered and the library’s database of donors.

A lower court declared three of the four databases trade secrets under the statute as “customer lists.” The library’s database of donors was not considered a customer list, but the court remanded it back to the state’s Freedom of Information Commission to determine if the list may still be protected under the trade secret exemption.

In University of Connecticut v. Freedom of Information Commission, the state’s highest court upheld that decision, declaring for the first time that records created by public agencies can qualify as trade secrets.

Aiming Nuclear Weapons at Academic Molehills

I warned you last year that this was likely coming somewhere…

In Virginia, the attorney general, skeptical of global warming, tried to use his subpoena powers to build a fraud case against a climatology professor.

In Wisconsin, Republican Party officials sought the emails of a history professor, trying to demonstrate that he had misused his public account to stir political unrest during the state’s highly publicized battles over organized labor.

Maryland Del. Sandy Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat, has cited these controversies, which garnered national attention, as he vows to prevent a similar situation from arising here. Rosenberg introduced a bill being considered in the General Assembly that would extend broader protection from public information requests to professors at the state’s public universities.

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Secret University Searches, and the Excuses Made for Them…

The Associated Press reporter Alan Zagier wrote a nice story looking at the tale of two very different searches at my university, one fairly open, one Vatican-like in its secrecy…and I lob an incendiary quote in for good measure!

“The law school search really demonstrates the power of this institution to attract high-caliber candidates in a very public search,” said Charles Davis, an associate professor of journalism and former executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. “There are institutions all over the country that run public searches, and they work fine. None of them have dropped off and fallen into the ocean, last I checked.”

Some states, notably Florida, legally require public colleges and universities to disclose finalists’ names in chancellor and presidential searches. That’s not the case in Missouri, which leaves it up to schools and their governing boards.

At our shop, everyone else runs partially open searches, but the top job is top secret.

Connecticut’s High Court to Hear FOI Case Involving UConn Ticket Holder Info

Connecticut’s highest court will soon consider whether the University of Connecticut must release its season ticket holders’ names and some other lists under open records laws.

The state Supreme Court has scheduled an Oct. 21 hearing on the case, which stems from a Freedom of Information Commission decision in 2009.

That agency ordered UConn to provide the records to alumnus and former state Rep. Jonathan Pelto. He’d requested them to reach more people for a new advocacy and watchdog group.

Quite possibly not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they talked democracy…

Bricks in a wall.

Image via Wikipedia

This story is just crazy awesome. Seems the Regents at Rutgers had a crowd fairly upset with them the other night over, well, I don’t know…an issue of university import. So their response? They built a wall between themselves and the crowd!

I would have given anything to be at that meeting…and I so hope that other university administrators are not taking notes.

 

My favorite section:

“I don’t know how you conduct a meeting with people shouting at you,” he said.

Yeah, I have no idea…wait…what if you let the students and faculty speak?

Three members of the press, including a reporter from The Star-Ledger, were allowed to remain inside the meeting room before it was sealed.

So, what was it like to be in the little meeting bubble? This is simply the greatest Sunshine Law violation in the history of mankind…

 

cd

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