The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Indiana University recently got a new president. A law professor there wound up trying to peer into the process of how the old president was departing and how the new president was selected. The university preferred that such information remain behind closed doors.
Next thing you know the professor was getting public record requests from a local law firm for his emails on his university account. The law firm would not reveal who was behind the requests, but there is reason to think that university officials are the ones doing the snooping.
As a public employee at a state university, the university email of Professor Sanders is legally subject to public records requests. Nonetheless, such procedures can be abused and have been used as a means to intimidate and silence university professors and chill speech. It would be a particularly troubling attack on academic freedom if faculty emails are accessed at the request of university officials.
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The announced purpose of the Indiana's open records law is to facilitate giving "the people . . . full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees." It would fly in the face of this policy if a public university were to use the open records law to harass one of its own professors for bringing to light important matters of public concern about the conduct of that university's officials. Even worse would be a university covering its tracks by hiring a law firm to carry out a public records request to achieve this end.
The university should firmly disavow any involvement with or continuation of this effort to discourage faculty inquiries into how the university managed its presidential transition. The full letter from the AFA to Indiana University is here.