Student Newspaper Wins Open Records Victory, a Year After Request

A settlement has been reached: At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, what was once redacted will now be set free.

A yearlong legal fight between the UWM Post and the school over the release of a specific set of university records has ended with a big student press victory, the SPLC and others have confirmed.  The university will release the requested records in full, and pay the Post‘s legal fees.  As the Badger Herald at UW-Madison reports: “The student newspaper will receive $11,764.65 for attorney fees from the university and will be provided with the redaction-free files from the Union Policy Board, a governing body comprised of students and faculty that allocates office space to student organizations. . . . The records were of interest to the UWM Post . . . because there was the possibility the board was discussing office allocations earlier than usual.”

UWM originally provided the records to the Post but blotted out several portions, including the names of students who serve on the policy board, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).  Given that the meetings are public and the students voluntarily serve, the FERPA excuse always seemed to me like a stretch or a misinterpretation at best and a blatant legal flouting at worst, a perspective now confirmed and legally settled.

In a Student Journalist Spotlight post last November, Jonathan Anderson, the (now former) Post editor in chief who spearheaded the records fight, told me: “I believe that it is a significantly important function of the press to serve as a watchdog of government- whether it’s the White House, university administration or student government officials. . . . So my motivation lies in a deep belief that the public has a right to know what its government is doing. I also believe it’s an important duty of the press to utilize, advocate, and enforce that sacred right through freedom of information laws, including filing public records requests, publicizing government secrecy, and litigating.

Below is a brief Badger Herald video interview with Anderson, also circa November 2009, in which he discusses the now-concluded case.

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