Universities and open records

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How a state defines the term "public records" can have critical implications for judicial and legislative decisions regarding exemptions and areas in which the law may not apply. This is especially true when dealing with state Universities. The following page is designed to help differentiate and highlight some of the considerations state's face when dealing with open records and the ivory tower of academia.


Read more at RCFP "The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)"

Universities face the same restrictions as all schools under the Family Education Rights Privacy Act. The federal act threatens to punish universities and lower level schools with a loss of funding if the release identifying educational information of current or former students. This act severely restricts the information universities are able to release under state open records laws. In addition, the Society of Professional Journalists, claims that the law “has been twisted beyond recognition, keeping school lunch menus, graduation honors and athletic travel records secret.”[1] As a broad exemption, we can easily state that all personally identifying education records of university students are automatically exempt. Therefor this research will deal with administrative records and the records of faculty and staff.



Research on all 50 state laws using the original statutes and the RCFP Open Government revealed four levels of transparency that dictate whether the records of Universities are available:

  1. Explicitly Open: These states explicitly include universities in their open records law, leaving little room for doubt.
  2. Presumed/Judicially Confirmed: These states have a presumption for openness that has been affirmed in one or more court cases.
  3. Presumed Open: These states are silent on the question of universities and records. With silence comes the presumption that the records of universities are open to public inspection.
  4. Explicitly exempt: These states explicitly exempt the records of state universities.

Specific exemptions

In addition, a number of more specific exemptions establish particular classes of university records that are commonly requested and commonly exempted.

  1. Research: This usually includes non-published academic research being conducted by or for the university. It is occasionally nested within "trade secrets" exemptions.
  2. Donors: Many universities have obtained exemptions for donor records to universities, arguing that releasing the names of donors reduces the likelihood that they will continue to make large donations to the university.
  3. Examinations: In an attempt to protect the academic integrity of students and prevent cheating, examinations are often exempt under open records laws. This exemption usually extends to other state exams including licensing exams.
  4. Course Materials: A select few states exempt course materials prepared and used by faculty in the process of instructing students.


The following chart highlights the exemptions and status across the state. 600px-Yes check.png indicates that the state has an exemption on the law for those records.

West Virginia Freedom of Information ActPresumed OpenY
600px-Yes check.png
Wisconsin Open Records LawPresumed Open

See also

External links


1. Select a state

NevadaNew Hampshire
New MexicoNew Jersey
New YorkNorth Carolina
North DakotaOhioOklahoma
OregonPennsylvaniaRhode Island
South CarolinaSouth Dakota
West VirginiaWisconsinWyoming
2. See also

3. External links

Here is a list of definitions of public body by state:

West Virginia Freedom of Information Act

Status: Presumed Open
Popular Exemptions
ResearchDonorsExaminationsCourse Materials
600px-Yes check.png

The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state. However, testing and exam material are explicitly exempted under West Virginia Code, 29B-1-4.

Wisconsin Open Records Law

Status: Presumed Open
Popular Exemptions
ResearchDonorsExaminationsCourse Materials

The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state.

See also

External links