The Tension Between Academic Freedom and State Open Records Laws: Is There a Need for
April 1, 2014
Event Video Part 1
Event Video Part 2
In most states, university faculty members are state employees, and their records—both paper and electronic—are state records. That means that they are presumptively subject to state open records (FOIA) laws. The problem is best illustrated by a case heard by the Virginia Supreme Court in January that is expected to be decided very soon. In that case, the e-mails sent to and received by a former University of Virginia (UVA) faculty member dealing with his research on climate change are being sought by a group that has a different view of the science and is bringing five similar suits in Texas and Arizona.
This conference had two main goals. First, the program informed faculty and the general public that the FOIA laws, which most people support, can have serious consequences for academic freedom. It explored the kinds of records that are subject to those laws, including those that originate outside the state university, such as those from other academics, government agencies, or private individuals.
Second, the conference explored solutions that both preserve academic freedom and recognize the right of the public to know how state funds are used. The latter discussion also considered where the line might be drawn between a faculty member's publicly disclosable work and private work that should be exempt from disclosure under state FOIA laws.
Alan B. Morrison
Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest and Public Service
Director, Committee on Science, Technology & Law at the National Academy of Sciences
Briefs in American Tradition Institute v. University of Virginia