Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New Yorker Commenter Understands FOIA Better Than AHA President

...or New Yorker writer Anthony Grafton, for that matter, viz.
As a reporter myself (in San Diego, California), I use this state's open records law all the timeto request emails . This article states: "After all, Cronon’s mails, like those of most professors, include materials meant to be confidential: messages to and about students or colleagues. The only reason to compromise the protection these materials enjoy would be evidence of wrongdoing on his part, and there is none." This is a silly point that mis-characterizes the process of responding to such open records requests. The university could very easily run a search for the queries submitted by the Republican Party "fishing expedition," then redact any such confidential or sensitive emails from the pile it gets back, as I'm sure is allowed under Wisnonsin's public records law. Besides, it's unlikely that any emails containing the terms being searched for would be sensitive anyway, since the professor's unlikely to mention, say, Rob Cowles, in an email counselling a student. On another note, the notion that "fishing expeditions" of this kind are in some way nefarious or underhand bothers me as a journalist anyway. If the professor has, indeed, been using his university email account, and his publicly-subsidized position at the university, to engage in political activities, then the public that's footing the bill for his salary has a right to know that. Indeed, that's exactly what public records laws are designed for, isn't it? The university should accurately and in a timely manner respond to the request, while redacting any sensitive or confidential emails to the extent legally allowed. Then the public can make its own mind up about whether this was, indeed, a misuse of the professor's time and resources.
POSTED 3/29/2011, 4:46:18PM BY WILLCARLESS