Texas A&M Open Records Rule Prevents Professors From Instructing Students To Request Public Information

Texas A&M System professors hoping to teach their students the merits of the Freedom of Information Act recently encountered an ironic roadblock: Under a system-wide rule, they could face steep punishment for instructing students to file open records requests.

The Associated Press reports on how the situation came to light:

The issue began earlier this year when Tarleton State University in the Central Texas town of Stephenville asked the A&M University System whether a faculty member at the school could direct a student in his or her class to submit a public information request to the school under the Texas Public Information Act.

In response to Tarleton State's question, Andrew Strong, general counsel for the A&M System, said under a system rule, a faculty member can't direct students to submit a public information request to Tarleton or any other member of the A&M system.

According to the Daily Texan, Strong said the policy "limits the amount of requests the System has to handle," and that formal requests "place a burden on the administration" because they are so time-intensive.

A&M System spokesman Ron Davis told the AP that the rule "does not prevent (students) from getting public information."

"It specified in a very, very narrowly drawn manner (the) way they can do so. It absolutely does not inhibit their ability to find the information," he said.

However, many journalism professors and freedom of information advocates are criticizing the policy.

"No university should be allowed to shackle its employees, especially its journalism faculty, with policies that censor the public's right to know or prevent a free flow of information -- either in the classroom or anywhere else," said Keith Elkins, the executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, in the Austin American-Statesman.

According to the Statesman, the policy has been in place since 1997.

"It looks like something that would be in The Onion," University of Texas journalism professor Wanda Garner Cash said.