Daily Texan Editor: ‘Why Does the University of Michigan Insist on Secrecy?’

The editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan is publicly criticizing the University of Michigan for seemingly trying to scuttle his recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

In a guest column for the Detroit Free Press, DT EIC Riley Brands writes that “the way the University of Michigan handles requests for such information flies in the face of … transparency and erects nearly impenetrable roadblocks for investigative journalists and concerned citizens alike.” Yowza.

Brands is specifically concerned about UM’s response to his request for documents pertaining to “the names of faculty couples who had recently been hired together.”

According to Brands, his UM faculty-couple digging is part of a larger series of similar requests he’s submitted to a dozen big public unis nationwide.

1

It’s certainly a newsworthy story in general, one the student press has covered numerous times in recent semesters.

1For example, as The Daily Pennsylvanian at the University of Pennsylvania confirmed in 2012, “Finding a job in academia is no easy endeavor. But when academics are married to other academics, finding the ideal job becomes significantly more difficult. Couples trying to obtain faculty positions in the same institution or general location face many dilemmas in what is generally referred to as ‘the two-body problem.'”

The problem for Brands in his own research on this issue totals $1,280. That is the price UM officials say their services will cost to assist Brands in his FOIA request. As they wrote him, “[T]he amount of time estimated to search for, retrieve, copy and review to separate exempt from nonexempt records within the scope of your request, production of responsive nonexempt records will result in unreasonably high costs for the university.”

But Brands ain’t buying the unreasonable argument.

In his words, “Given that two universities provided me with the documents at no cost and in a fairly short period of time, that number should make jaws drop. … It’s not entirely clear why the university charges so much. It could be because of inefficient record-keeping or because of a desire to keep public information private. Either way, actions like these speak to a culture of secrecy at Michigan’s second-largest university that keeps the public’s information from plain view and primes public institutions for corruption.”

Bottom line, as the headline of his column asks rhetorically, “Why does the University of Michigan insist on secrecy?”

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