'Freedom of Information' vs 'Academic Freedom'

Apr 20, 2011

University of Michigan professors are asking university officials to deny a ‘Freedom of Information Request’ in the cause of ‘Academic Freedom’.  The issue concerns email.  

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has made a ‘Freedom of Information Request’ for emails from the university’s labor studies department.  The center has made similar requests at other universities.   The conservative Michigan think tank suspects illegal political activity in the department linked to this year’s labor unrest in Wisconsin.

Ian Robinson is a lecturer in the Sociology Department at U of M.   He says FOIA requests are OK, but not if they infringe on ‘Academic Freedom’. 

“The necessity of having a sphere with in which academics can discuss things that many of the most powerful forces in society may not want us to discuss.”

The Mackinac Center is seeking emails that specifically use the words 'Madison' (as in Madison, Wisconsin), 'Walker' (as in Governor Walker) and 'Rachel Maddow' all words or phrases that might reference the Wisconsin labor protests.  

The Mackinac Center issued a written statement on the U of M professors online petition: 

 Public employees don’t decide which aspects of the law they get to comply with. If there are privacy exceptions within the law that apply to these emails, that’s fine. But the university should comply with any communications required by Michigan’s FOIA law. The actions of Wayne State University confirmed the validity of our FOIA requests. After we made public our observations about apparent illegal political activity on the WSU Labor Studies Center website, the university removed the site completely. When it was restored, the site had been scrubbed of all the suspect material. While we have submitted numerous FOIA requests over the years, we have never published the political leanings or personal views of public officials. We use FOIA to enhance our researchor to expose misconduct.