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April 27, 2011 

University of Virginia Will Use Exemptions for Request for Scientist's Private Documents

University of Virginia (UVA) President Teresa Sullivan last week pledged to use all available exemptions under current law to uphold academic freedom and protect a range of private records from a freedom of information request filed with the university. The request, by a free market advocacy group, asked for a broad array of materials and correspondence produced by climate scientist Michael Mann when he worked at the school.   While Mann’s data and methods have been publicly available for years, the request seeks personal emails, handwritten notes, and other correspondence among scientists that is generally understood to be protected as private speech.

Sullivan’s statement was in an April 21 letter she wrote in response to an April 14 letter from a dozen public interest groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), asking the university to “[balance] the interests in public disclosure against the public interest in academic freedom” in its response to the request. “While the University is, of course, committed to complying with the requirements of law,” she wrote, “I wish to reassure you that this commitment will be carried out to the fullest extent possible consistent with the interests of faculty in academic freedom and scholarship.”

The freedom of information request, filed by the American Tradition Institute, is nearly identical to Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s demand for Mann’s correspondence under a different law. A number of the organizations that signed the April 14 letter to UVA also submitted an amicus brief on April 25 to the Virginia State Supreme Court asking the court to reject Cuccinelli’s appeal of an August 2010 district court decision against his subpoena. The lower court ruled Cuccinelli failed to provide legal justification for his request.

UCS has assembled a comprehensive timeline of various attacks against the University of Virginia.


The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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