UW settles open records lawsuit with student newspaper

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Posted by madcityradio.com on February 15, 2010 at 20:12:13:

The UWM Post and UW-Milwaukee reached a settlement last week for a public records lawsuit filed against UWM by the student newspaper in November of last year.

The university agreed to disclose all previously requested records in unredacted form. They also agree to pay attorney fees in the amount of $11,764.65 to Godfrey & Khan S.C., the Post�s legal counsel.

The lawsuit was based on a Jan. 8, 2009 public records request made by Jonathan Anderson, who was editor in chief of the Post at the time. The request sought minutes, agendas, audio recordings and other records of Union Policy Board (UPB) meetings. The university produced the records, but redacted information that might identify student members of the committee.

�It�s a shame that this lesson had to be a costly one for the taxpayers, but we hope that the university now appreciates that journalists are not going to sit back and accept illogical and legally unjustified secrecy without a fight,� said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center.

UWM cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as the basis for protecting student identities in the UPB documents. The Post filed suit against the university Nov. 11, 2009, arguing that student members of the UPB were not sitting on that committee in an educational context and therefore should not be subject to FERPA privacy protection. UPB meetings are open to the public.

LoMonte said that the settlement is a success for the Post because UWM will disclose the records that they initially had decided were not public record. But he said that, ultimately, the federal government needs to clarify what FERPA can and can�t apply to.

�This is a step forward, but journalists can�t be expected to �sue common sense into� every college in America,� LoMonte said. �We still desperately need Congress to clarify that FERPA applies only to legitimately confidential academic information, as its sponsors understood and intended.�

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