Victory for Academic Freedom at University of Arizona

A recent court decision from Arizona affirms the AAUP’s continuing support for the academic freedom rights of faculty members engaged in research by contesting intrusive public records requests.

The case started with a public records request covering more than 1,700 e-mails exchanged by University of Arizona faculty members engaged in climate research. The requests were submitted by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute, a free-market legal foundation seeking to “put false science on trial.” The institute previously worked with the American Tradition Institute to prosecute similar public records requests of faculty members at the University of Virginia.

The AAUP supported faculty members at the University of Virginia and here again in Arizona, submitting amicus briefs opposing the release of the records. In this case, the AAUP brief, drafted by General Counsel Risa Lieberwitz, raised “the significant chilling effects that will result from forcing scholars and institutions to disclose collegial academic communications and internal deliberative materials.”

On March 24, 2015, the Arizona state trial court ruled that the university (called “AzBOR” in the decision) did not have to disclose the records. The court explained: “The primary reason AzBOR claims as the basis for not producing these documents is that to do so would have a chilling effect on the ability and likelihood of professors and scientists engaging in frank exchanges of ideas and information. AzBOR enlisted the help of an impressive array of scholars, academic administrators, professors, etc., who . . . provide compelling support of its position.” Ultimately, the court ruled that it “cannot conclude that by withholding the remaining emails for the reasons stated, AzBOR abused its discretion or acted arbitrarily or capriciously.”

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, April 8, 2015