A national council has filed suit against the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents for refusing to comply with requests to access course syllabi across the UW System’s four-year campuses.

The National Council on Teacher Quality filed a complaint with the Jefferson County Circuit Court last Thursday seeking action to enforce Wisconsin’s open records law.

The NCTQ is a non-profit research group committed to seeking out quality educators by examining policies and institutions in order to suggest improvements to create an effective learning environment, NCTQ Managing Director of Teacher Preparation Studies Arthur McKee said.

“NCTQ is currently engaged in an unprecedented national review of teacher preparation programs – over 1,000 all across the country – that will be published later this year in partnership with U.S. News & World Report,” McKee said.

He said the NCTQ was interested in contacting the UW System to participate in the review and decided to send a request in August 2011 despite verbal opposition from the UW System.

“The organization sent our campuses multiple, extensive open records requests seeking a wide range of course syllabi from our schools of education across all of our four-year campuses,” UW System spokesperson David Giroux said. 

In fall 2011, the UW System determined the materials requested by the NCTQ did not have to be provided because the requests were deemed as documents protected by copyright, and therefore did not fall under Wisconsin’s open records law, Giroux said.

Giroux added the UW System decided they did not wish to participate in the review because the deans of each UW System institution were concerned with the methodology of the NCTQ’s review.

McKee said the NCTQ believes these materials are important to include in the national review, and that taking the UW System to court is a last resort to obtain information the organization sees as necessary.

“Since we are conducting research into the quality of teacher preparation programs, our work clearly falls within the ‘fair use’ provision of copyright law,” McKee said. “We also believe that as public institutions publicly approved to prepare public school teachers, the UW system’s schools of education have an obligation to make these documents – which shed important light on what they are doing to ready teachers – available to the public.”

Currently, the UW Board of Regents and their attorneys are carefully looking over the lawsuit filed in Jefferson County, Giroux said.

The UW System is not the first set of institutions to deny access to course syllabi.

“We have faced substantial opposition from the leaders of teacher preparation programs throughout the country,” McKee said.

McKee added that the majority of public institutions asked to participate in the national review have agreed to grant access to NCTQ.

He said UW is the only system that the NCTQ has filed suit against as of yet, but similar actions are being considered with other institutions that have denied requests of obtaining syllabi.