New journal article discusses the conflict between academic freedom and open records laws

March 20, 2018

A recent paper provides an in-depth look into the ongoing friction between state open records laws and the academic freedom of university researchers.

The article, written by University of California, Berkeley, School of Law professor Claudia Polsky, addresses how these laws have been used to conduct politically-motivated fishing expeditions into the private academic records of controversial professors in order to deter them from research and debate. Polsky argues that “professors should never have been subject to public records laws in the first instance, both because they are not engaged in public governance, and because open records laws are fundamentally incompatible with academic freedom.”

Her meticulously researched article documents numerous instances of professors targeted by open records laws — a distortion detrimental to the “democracy-promoting intent” of these statutes. Although these laws were designed to shed light on government actors with decision-making authority, Polsky explains how they are currently being twisted to stifle legitimate academic inquiries into controversial issues.

Polsky echoes much of what FIRE has written on the tension between academic freedom and open records statutes, especially how the misuse of these laws creates a profound chilling effect on state university professors. Her detailed and insightful article concludes with a model statutory exemption that lawmakers can adopt to better protect scholar-related records — a solution that is similar to FIRE’s Model Resolution on Academic Freedom and Government Transparency as well.

We encourage our readers to check out Polsky’s article.

Schools:  University of California, Berkeley