Professors interviewed for this story by eCampus News spoke anonymously, because the open-records request remains a highly contentious issue in higher education—and many campus administrators don’t approve of faculty publicly assessing the heated political debate.
A faculty member from a college in the Southeast said the lingering threat of partisan political attacks could motivate professors to use personal eMail accounts, which, unlike a college account, wouldn’t be subject to open-records laws.
“You might see [professors] turning to their Gmail or Yahoo! or AOL accounts for a while after this,” the educator said.
David Halperin, director of Campus Progress, a left-leaning national organization, said using personal eMail accounts to exchange work-related ideas and theories might be the best protection for faculty members wary of political attacks.
“In a world where there’s a lot of overreaching, I think it’s probably a smart thing for professors to do,” he said. “But a better practice would be one in which they don’t have to work around the system” and resort to personal eMail accounts to avoid scrutiny.
FOIA requests play an important role in keeping public employees and institutions accountable, Halperin said, but the open-records requests “shouldn’t cover exchanges about economic theories or research,” for example.
“We believe there should be exemptions for academic purposes,” he said. “[FOIAs] should address whether someone is abusing their authority or violating the law. … Somebody’s ideas or an academic debate should not be exposed for political reasons.”
Martin, in her latest statement on the FOIA request, said “reprisal for unpopular positions” from outside groups could drive talented researchers and professors away from UW and campuses across the country.