Saturday, April 30, 2011

Foiled by FOIA

The UM's official publication attempts to explain what, exactly, is covered by state and federal Freedom of Information Act requirements.

Unfortunately, the article does more to illustrate the sometimes inability of university administrators to communicate clearly than anything else. After reading the article, for example, I am still unclear about whether or not an email I sent to a co-author about the Wisconsin demonstrations would have to be released or not, which seems like the key question surrounding the Mackinac Institute's FOIA request, and whether or not the answer to that question depends on, for example, whether I am a faculty member in a labor-related unit and/or whether or not I am engaged in research on issues related to unions.

The key paragraph is this one:
Email messages are considered public records under the FOIA if they deal with university business or are maintained by the university related to university business. The law specifically excludes computer software from the definition of public record.
So, my hypothetical email is presumably not university business, but it is "maintained" by the university in the sense that it sits (essentially forever, as I rarely delete emails) on the university's disks. Or maybe it is university business if I work at a unit that studies labor relations or if my research has to do with unions? Does it matter if my union-related research is funded by a grant run through the university? The line about software seems oddly irrelevant - how many faculty will write a program to express their views?


1 comment:

don said...

"[H]ow many faculty will write a program to express their views?"

All the ones who wish to evade FOIA. Put that CS degree to use!