A provision in Gov. Scott Walker’s biennial budget would allow the University of Wisconsin System to keep the details of its research secret.
The proposal would be an exemption to the open records law and would allow the UW System to keep details of research secret from the public.
UW would not have to release records of research unless they are publicly disseminated or patented. Bill Barker, director of the office of research policy in the office of the vice chancellor, said in an email to The Badger Herald that it is not about keeping research a secret.
“We just need to be able to control the timing of release of information better,” Barker said.
Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said there are internal checks on research, so it would not free researchers of all constraints. They still have to justify research for funders and to internal oversight committees, but would not have to share this information to the public unless the research is published, he said.
“It would mean if a citizen asked UW for records on an ongoing experiment involving baby monkeys or dangerous pathogens, the university could just say ‘sorry, we don’t have to give you that information,’” Lueders said.
Under current state law, access to records can be denied if the university shows the harm of sharing outweighs public access.
Lueders said there is an increased potential of abuse when the institution knows research has protection of disclosure. There is a lot of research that is not disseminated or patented and all of that research would be exempt from disclosure, Lueders said.
Similar efforts in the Legislature over the last two years have been unsuccessful.
In a statement emailed to The Badger Herald by Barker, UW seeks to protect its competitive advantage in grant seeking and research, while maintaining itself as a leader in academic technology transfer.
The statement said while they could not point to a specific instance in misappropriated research or lost intellectual property, they “seek to optimize our role as an economic engine for the State of Wisconsin.”
Lueders said if UW feels the need to exempt research because of concerns about competition from other states, then they should be able to cite examples.
“They have not produced an example of a research product that the state lost to another state because our laws are too open,” Lueders said. “They haven’t produced a case where the availability of research has resulted in UW losing out on a potential discovery … You would think they could cite an example, or two, or 10, or 20.”