ACLU, AAUP, Union of Concerned Scientists, and nine other groups claim in letter that UVA can protect both open government and academic freedom.

Charlottesville, VA -- Twelve organizations concerned with free speech and the integrity of scientific inquiry on college campuses today asked the University of Virginia to protect academic freedom when it answers a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the American Tradition Institute Environmental Law Center and Robert Marshall, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.
The FOIA request, which seeks emails and other communications related to UVA Professor Michael Mann’s research on global warming, resembles the controversial civil investigative demand, or CID, issued last year by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli under the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act.  Concerned that complying with the CID would chill academic freedom, UVA took the matter to Albemarle County Circuit Court, which quashed the CID.
“As citizens, we have an abiding interest in protecting both academic freedom and open government,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis, “but sometimes these two principles come in conflict with each other.  For most government workings, we should know just about everything that happens, but when FOIA inquiries run the risk of chilling the free exchange of ideas, we need to carve out some narrow exceptions.”
In their letter, the twelve signatories note that the Virginia FOIA already exempts certain records related to scientific research that have “not been publicly released, published, copyrighted or patented.”  The letter asks the university to be mindful of that exemption and academic freedom concerns when responding to the FOIA request.
The ACLU of Virginia, AAUP, UCS and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression recently teamed up to file an amicus brief in the Cuccinelli/CID case, siding with the University of Virginia.  After the Albemarle County Court ruled in UVA’s favor, the attorney general appealed the case to the Virginia Supreme Court, which has not yet ruled.
A copy of today’s letter is available at:

Signatories to the letter are: ACLU of Virginia, Alliance for Justice, American Association of University Professors, Center for Inquiry, Climate Science Watch, Council of Environmental Deans and Directors, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Council for Science and the Environment, People For the American Way, The Ornithological Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Robert M. O’Neil, Director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022