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Freedom of Information Act
The purpose of this policy is to explain the implications of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for the University.
- FOIA: The Freedom of Information Act protects "the public's right to know." It requires that deliberations and actions of "public bodies" and "official records" pertaining thereto be open to the public and to the media. A public body is any governmental entity, agency, commission, institution, or other organization that is supported wholly or principally by public funds.
Public Meetings: The meetings of public bodies are to be public meetings except as specifically exempted by law; this includes workshops and retreats, even when no decision is anticipated. The date, time, and place of such meetings are to be provided to any citizen who requests this information and shall be provided on a continual basis to those who request such notification in writing at least once a year.
- Voting: No votes may be taken by secret or written ballot.
- Minutes: Minutes must be taken at each meeting and must be available to the public.
- Social Gatherings: Social gatherings of boards or public bodies do not have to be announced.
- Emergency Meetings: Notice of special or emergency meetings should be given to media and other requesters at the same time that the notice goes to members.
- Telephone Polls: FOI does not prohibit a telephone poll of membership to determine their position on an upcoming matter.
Executive Session: An executive or closed session is permitted for certain specific purposes. Among them are:
- personnel matters concerning specific persons but not for discussion of general matters like salary scales;
- discussion or consideration of or interviews of prospective candidates for employment, assignment, appointment, promotion, performance, demotion, salaries, disciplining or resignation of specific public officers, appointees, or employees of any public body, and evaluation of performance of departments or schools of State institutions of higher education where such matters regarding such individuals might be affected by such evaluation;
- discussion or consideration of admission or disciplinary matters concerning any student or students of any State institution of higher education or any State school system;
- discussion or consideration of the condition,
- acquisition or use of real property for public purpose, or of the disposition of publicly held property, or of plans for the future of a State institution of higher education which could affect the value of property owned or desirable for ownership by such institution;
- protection of the privacy of individuals in personal matters not related to public business;
- the investing of public funds where competition or bargaining is involved where, if made public initially, the financial interest of the governmental unit would be adversely affected;
- consultation with legal counsel and briefings by staff members, consultants, or attorneys pertaining to actual probable litigation or other specific legal matters requiring the provision of legal advice by counsel;
- in the case of boards of visitors of State institutions of higher education, discussion or consideration of matters relating to gifts, bequests and fund-raising activities, and grants and contracts for services or work to be performed by such institution;
discussion or consideration of honorary degrees or special awards.
- FOIA requires that a motion to go into executive session include a specific statement about what will be discussed and refer to the part of the law that permits discussion of these matters in closed session.
- Following the executive session, a written statement or resolution must be passed by the body certifying that nothing was discussed behind closed doors except those matters previously announced in the motion to go into executive session.
- In no event may any public body take action on matters discussed in any executive or closed meeting, except at a public meeting for which notice was given as required.
- An executive session does not have to be previously announced on the meeting's agenda.
- Consultants' reports, once they are distributed to members of the public body, must be made available to the media and the public. But if such reports are used in a closed session and then picked up, they are not disclosable.
- A board or other public body is not required to allow an employee under discussion in executive session to be present during that discussion.
- The official records of a public body must be open to inspection and copying by any citizen of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media.
- FOI covers "all written or printed books, papers, letters, documents, maps and tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings, reports or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristic, prepared, owned, or in the possession of a public body or any employee or officer of a public body in the transaction of public business."
- Even draft documents must be disclosed upon request; stamp DRAFT on them and send them out.
- Public bodies are not required to create a record or document in response to a request or to honor requests for "future records."
- If a record exists in two (2) forms (i.e., hard copy and computer disc), it must be provided to requester in the form requested.
- The document does not have to be explained or expounded upon. (It may sometimes be in the best interest of the public body to explain the document.)
- In the case of walk-in requests for documents or records: honor them on the spot unless there is a question about the legality of disclosure of requested information. Then ask for time to check with authority.
- Respond to requests for documents or records within five (5) working days. Do not ignore the request. Possible responses are:
- provide the records.
- prepare written denial of the requested records, citing specific exemption in the law.
- provide records with part(s) deleted that are legally exempt from disclosure; explain the deletions.
- inform the requester that you cannot provide the records in five (5) days; you then have seven (7) more days to provide the information. If the request is for a large volume of records, negotiate with the requester.
- Agencies may charge actual cost of providing records (search time, copying, computer time, etc.).
- Documents or records that pertain to and/or are identifiable to specific persons may not be disclosed; examples are:
- juvenile records
- criminal histories or investigations
- vital statistics
- hospital records
- tax records
- scholastic records
- personnel records
- Letters of recommendation are not subject to disclosure to the person involved or to a third party.
- Also exempt from disclosure are legal papers compiled specifically for use in actual litigation or as part of an active administrative investigation concerning a matter that is properly the subject of an executive or closed meeting. A copy of the entire Freedom of Information law is available for review in the Public Relations Office.
- The Director of Public Relations is the designated FOIA Officer for the University. Copies of all FOIA requests should be sent to the Director of Public Relations.
Revised and approved by the Board of Visitors, September 7, 2002.