University Of Virginia vs. State FOIA Law, Again

Last month, e-mail correspondence between scientists was ruled exempt from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act in a case that pit the right-wing American Tradition Institute against U.Va. climate scientist Michael Mann.

Associate Director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government Megan Rhyne weighs in on another recent FOIA-related standoff at the university in an Op Ed for The Daily Progress Sunday:

Jeffrey C. Walker, chairman of the University of Virginia’s Council of Foundations, seems to believe that the debacle that was the ouster and reinstatement of President Teresa Sullivan was somehow brought about because FOIA prohibits more than two people to talk privately without triggering rules regarding notice and openness of a public meeting and the members of the BOV couldn’t talk freely among themselves off the record.

To which George Cohen, chairman of the Faculty Senate, said, “I’m not sure that the problem that we had this summer was the result of too little discussion behind closed doors.”

Amen, Brother George.

As if the whole thing would have gone over smoothly if three or more people got together to talk privately about the president’s removal instead of just two at a time. Without getting too far into the weeds of the particulars of what happened, people were outraged because the decision had been made and announced without any warning. I was outraged and I don’t have a dog in the UVa fight at all (proud Tar Heel grad, here). People who weren’t Sullivan’s cheerleaders were outraged, too. Bless Mr. Walker’s heart if he still thinks it was all about the substance of the decision and not about the process.

In the September case, ATI sought to access Mann’s emails so they could vet the research behind his findings that tie human population growth and activity to climate change, according to a blog post from the Washington Post‘s Tom Jackman. He gives a rundown of the case in his Sept. 18 column [via The Washington Post]:

Mann argued that his e-mails were not prepared in the conduct of public business, but were internal deliberations between scientists. Inhis own affidavit, Mann said that a prior release of some of his e-mails in an episode in England caused him to “endure countless verbal attacks upon my professional reputation, my honesty, my integrity, even my life and liberty.”

[David] Schnare[, a former EPA lawyer now representing ATI] argued in his main brief that as a state employee, Mann’s correspondence was state properrty and had no expectation of privacy. He noted that the prior release of Mann’s e-mails had not chilled his communications or his career; he published a book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars” earlier this year.