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Brief Supports Academic Freedom in Research

Court should reject request for scientists’ internal deliberative materials.

Washington, DC--The American Association of University Professors filed an amicus brief on October 26 with the Arizona Court of Appeals arguing that academic freedom to conduct research is essential to a vital university system and warrants protecting certain research records from disclosure.

This case involves a lawsuit filed by the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, a “free market” legal foundation which is using public records requests in a campaign against climate science. E&E submitted public records requests that targeted two University of Arizona faculty members, climate researchers Malcolm Hughes and Jonathan Overpeck. The request sought e-mails authored by or addressed or copied to them.

E&E, previously known as the American Tradition Institute, has brought similar cases involving public records requests of faculty members and vows to “keep peppering universities around the country with similar requests.”

The AAUP’s brief supports the university and the scientists. It argues that the research records should be protected from disclosure, since compelled disclosure of prepublication communications and other unpublished academic research materials would have a severe chilling effect on intellectual debate among researchers and scientists.

“This is an important case to protect faculty members’ academic freedom to engage in research, which depends on their ability to freely communicate with colleagues and to test and debate ideas and theories,” says AAUP general counsel Risa Lieberwitz.

One key consideration under Arizona law is whether disclosure is “in the best interests of the state.” The brief advises the court to consider the best interests of the state to maintain a free and vital university system, which depends on the protection of academic freedom to engage in the scientific debate necessary to create high quality academic research.

The case was originally heard by the Superior Court in Pima County Arizona in late 2014. The AAUP filed an amicus brief in the lower court and in March 2015, the court ruled that the university did not have to disclose the records. The decision noted that the argument regarding the potential chilling effect of the disclosures was key to the decision. E & E appealed this decision to the Arizona Court of Appeals.

The case is Energy & Environment Legal Institute v. Arizona Board of Regents, No. C2013-4963, (Ariz. Sup. Ct., Pima County, March 24, 2015) appeal filed, Case No. 2CACV-2015-0086 (Ariz. App. Ct., Second App. Div.)

The mission of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is to advance academic freedom and shared governance; to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education; to promote the economic security of faculty, academic professionals, graduate students, post‐doctoral fellows, and all those engaged in teaching and research in higher education; to help the higher education community organize to make our goals a reality; and to ensure higher education's contribution to the common good. Founded in 1915, the AAUP has helped to shape American higher education by developing the standards and procedures that maintain quality in education and academic freedom in this country's colleges and universities.


Media Contact: 
Risa Lieberwitz, AAUP General Counsel
Publication Date: 
Tuesday, October 27, 2015