University of Michigan Rejects Michigan Daily’s Request for Aurora Shooter’s Grad School Application

The University of Michigan has twice rejected a request by The Michigan Daily to obtain the graduate school application of alleged Aurora shooter James Holmes.  Holmes applied last year to UM’s neuroscience grad program.  School officials denied him admission.

They are also denying the Daily’s FOIA request to view the Holmes application because they feel it would be “an unwarranted invasion of privacy.”  As legal counsel to the UM president told the paper: “The release of a student application in this or other cases would have, we believe, deleterious effect on the applicants and on the admissions process, and we consequently believe that the university and the public are best served by protecting the integrity and confidentiality of that process.”

The University of Illinois, University of Iowa, and University of Alabama have already publicly released similar grad school applications submitted by Holmes.

Michigan Daily senior news editor Adam Rubenfire outlined the process to me: “I had originally made a FOIA request for Aurora, Colo., shooter James Holmes’ 2011 UM graduate school application, back in September.  Later that month, I was denied my request, and upon appeal I was finally denied just this Tuesday.  Because we’ve previously been concerned with the actions of the University FOIA office and particularly because three other universities in states with similar FOIA laws released his application,  I felt it was necessary to write an article about the university’s refusal, to help our readers understand the university’s handling of public records.”

Near the close of Rubenfire’s article, Student Press Law Center executive director Frank LoMonte makes two strong points: 1) Holmes is no longer a typical failed applicant.  2) “Clearly private information” can be removed or blacked out from the released application.

LoMonte: “Once a person is caught up in a nationwide headline-making crime, that person loses any reasonable expectation of privacy in information they filed with the government. . . . Typically, public records are not an all or nothing matter.  If you can remove the portions of the record that give away truly secret information, like a Social Security number, then you’re supposed to remove only those portions and disclose the rest.”


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