UWM stifles student press under FERPA shield
Former UWM Post editor Jonathan Anderson sat down with The Badger Herald to explain the difficulties his paper faced obtaining what they believed to be public records. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee refused to release many records, such as student government meeting minutes, in their entirety. Anderson said UWM claimed the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act precluded them from releasing any records that might allow someone to discover the identities of students sitting on governing committees, for instance. Originally posted Nov. 11, 2009.
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will pay the campus newspaper legal fees and release previously withheld files after settling its lawsuit Friday. The UWM Post originally sued UW-Milwaukee in Nov. 2009 when administrators redacted copies of a governing board’s documents for information the paper claimed was public record.
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.
Jonathan Anderson, former editor in chief of the UWM Post, said one of the assistant attorneys representing the university approached the attorneys representing the UWM Post, and a settlement was subsequently reached.
“We respect the advice of the Department of Justice and are satisfied the case has been resolved,” UW-Milwaukee spokesperson Tom Luljak said.
The Post first asked Jan. 8, 2009 for records from a meeting of the Union Policy Board.
Anderson said the university’s reasoning for redacting the files stemmed from the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, which says a university cannot release documents personally identifying students.
In the case of the Union Policy Board, the university removed names that would have identified which students served on the board.
“[UW-Milwaukee’s] objective has always been to comply with applicable state and federal law in processing our records requests. With the law unclear in this area, we made a decision to protect the student privacy interests involved,” Luljack said.
The records were of interest to the UWM Post, Anderson said, because there was the possibility the board was discussing office allocations earlier than usual.
Upon receiving the unedited records allowed by the settlement, Anderson said the UWM Post will review the records for any information that could be deemed newsworthy, but the lawsuit was also a matter of journalistic principle.
“[The press] has an important responsibility to defend the public’s right to know,” Anderson said.
Kevin Lessmiller, current editor in chief of the UWM Post, said while he was concerned, the lawsuit has not had an impact on the professional relationship between the newspaper and UWM.