The Academic FOI Story Just Grew Rather Exponentially…

Rachel Maddow in Seattle.

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Talking Points Memo has the news on the latest in the email labor wars, as the issue really heats up the FOI landscape. I’ll say at the beginning what I have been saying on the phone to reporters all day: these are lawful FOI requests from public, taxpayer funded institution. I’m not about to take FOI and put it before some “motives” test…

I’m quite sure there are those who disagree forcefully, but this is a classic case of an immutable property: information is either disclosable under the law or it isn’t, and in this case, unless the e-mails meet statutory exemptions, they are public records. I’ve never once predicated access on the motives of a requester, nor will I….

Here are some of the most important parts of the story…

A free enterprise think tank in Michigan — backed by some of the biggest names in national conservative donor circles — has made a broad public records request to at least three in-state universities with departments that specialize in the study of labor relations, seeking all their emails regarding the union battle in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, TPM has learned.

According to professors subject to the request, filed under Michigan’s version of the Freedom Of Information Act, the request is extremely rare in academic circles. An employee at the think tank requesting the emails tells TPM they’re part of an investigation into what labor studies professors at state schools in Michigan are saying about the situation in Madison, Wisc., the epicenter of the clashes between unions and Republican-run state governments across the Midwest.The requests specifically seek emails from all labor studies faculty at each school.

The think tank is also known for FOIAing state workers, including teachers and professors. In February, it criticized Michigan State for not fully complying with a FOIA request for emails surrounding a plagiarism scandal involving MSU faculty. A recent request was for public school teacher emails that may or may not have mentioned the possibility of a strike. Teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan. That FOIA request was denied, leading to outcry from the Mackinac Center and the Michigan Press Association.

Here is a copy of the FOI request.

 

 

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2 Responses

  1. The complaints are straight out of “Animal Farm,” aren’t they? All FOI requests are equal but some are more equal than others.

    Are these the same academics who depend on access to information for their research?

    And no one had better ask me why I want information that’s due to me under the law. I will tell them it’s none of their business.

    • Yeah, it’s kind of hard to take any other position. I keep telling people that it could be helpful and instructive for every last American to do what the requesters in Wisconsin are doing — they’ll find the entire process expensive, time-consuming and ultimately less fulfilling than they hoped, more likely. That gives the FOI community ew reformers!

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