Academic Freedom and Institutional Matters

Energy & Environment Legal Institute v. Arizona Board of Regents, No. C2013-4963, (Arizona Superior Court, Pima County , March 24, 2015)

A recent court decision from Arizona validated the AAUP’s continuing support for the academic freedom rights of faculty members engaged in research by finding, as the AAUP argued in its amicus brief, that records requests for faculty research materials could be rejected because of the chilling effects of such disclosures. The case arose from a public records request involving University of Arizona faculty members engaged in climate research submitted by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute, a legal foundation seeking to “put false science on trial.” The AAUP submitted an amicus brief raising “the significant chilling effects that will result from forcing scholars and institutions to disclose collegial academic communications and internal deliberative materials .” The court ruled that the university could withhold the records, accepting as the primary reason that producing the documents “would have a chilling effect on the ability and likelihood of professors and scientists engaging in frank exchanges of ideas and information .”

The American Tradition Institute v. Rector & Visitors of the University of Virginia & Michael Mann, 287 Va. 330 (Va. April 17, 2014)

In this case the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a professor’s climate research records were exempt from disclosure as academic research records, as AAUP argued in an amicus brief submitted to the Court.  The Court explained that the exclusion of University research records from disclosure was intended to prevent “harm to university-wide research efforts, damage to faculty recruitment and retention, undermining of faculty expectations of privacy and confidentiality, and impairment of free thought and expression.” While the decision was limited to a Virginia statute, it provided a strong rationale for the defense of academic records from disclosure.

Cuccinelli v. Rector & Visitors of the University of Virginia, 283 Va. 420 (2010)

In a 2012 decision the Virginia Supreme Court rejected attempts by then Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to compel disclosure of university research records.  Cuccinelli who publicly opposes the theory of global warming, used his position to formally request emails and other documents relating to former faculty member and climatologist Michael Mann from the University of Virginia (UVA) arguing that he had authority to subpoena these records pursuant to the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act (FATA).  The Supreme Court of Virginia held that state universities, as agencies of the Commonwealth, do not constitute a “person” under the FATA and therefore Cuccinelli had no authority to require release of the records and his appeal was rendered moot. (In another related case, the Virginia Supreme Court rejected a request for these records under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.)