Balancing Academic Freedom and the Public’s Right to Know

By Gwendolyn Bradley

In Academic Freedom and the Public’s Right to Know: How to Counter the Chilling Effect of FOIA Requests on Scholarship, an issue brief published by the American Constitution Society in September, AAUP senior counsel Rachel Levinson-Waldman discusses ways to protect the “competing interests” of academic freedom and the public’s interest in transparency of public institutions and their work. This issue has come to prominence in the past few years as elected officials and special-interest groups have attempted to force public universities to turn over academic communications on controversial topics like public-sector collective bargaining and climate change. Such demands have a potentially significant chilling effect on academic inquiry, and state legislatures and courts would be well advised to consider a more uniform and balanced approach to ensure that they do not hinder academic freedom, Levinson-Waldman says. Possible approaches include an explicit exemption, a balancing inquiry, or a recognition that the professional work of university faculty may be outside the scope of most Freedom of Information Act statutes.

The issue brief is available on the web at http://www.acslaw.org/publications/acs-issue-briefs.

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