Michigan University Claims Its Public Records Retention Period Is Whatever Each Employee Wants It To Be

from the too-much-"freedom,"-not-enough-"information" dept

Michigan University has come up with a novel approach to “complying” with the state’s Freedom of Information Act: the Highly-Subjective Document Retention Schedule.

Here’s Michigan University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald responding to the Michigan Daily’s inquiries.

“It’s our policy that it’s up to individual users to determine their own document retention. The University doesn’t have a set schedule.”

That’s right. Anyone employed by the University can hold onto public records (like internal emails) for whatever time period they deem personally appropriate, whether it’s one day… or one year… or “aging off” documents the moment they’re requested.

This lack of a set schedule runs contrary to state law.

State law stipulates that public records be kept and disposed of in accordance with a formal schedule, which requires that correspondence be retained for two years after the date of its creation before it can be destroyed.

This retention free-for-all explains why the Michigan Daily hasn’t had much success in obtaining documents from the school this year during its attempts to investigate the athletic director’s forced resignation and the expulsion of a football player over violations of the school’s sexual misconduct policies.

The University’s spokesman claims the school is exempt from state law because it’s not a state agency. But the law says otherwise.

While the penal code does not explicitly define the University as an “office or agency of the state of Michigan,” the Freedom of Information Act does, stating: “All state agencies, county and other local governments, school boards … and public colleges and universities are covered.”

In fact, as the Michigan Daily points out, the University itself has made the same claim spokesman Rick Fitzgerald is now denying.

The University has argued in court multiple times that it is a state agency, including the 1994 case of Moore v. University of Michigan, regarding the firing of a whistleblower in the school’s information technology department. The case centered on “whether (the University) can be characterized as an arm or alter ego of the state,” according to the case brief. The University prevailed in court on the back of an argument that it is “an extension of the State.”

Inquiries sent to other local colleges show that Michigan University is an anomaly in its refusal to adhere to the state’s FOIA law. The school’s “do what thou wilt” retention policy may result in it being fined. State law provides for a $500 fine plus compensatory damages for “arbitrary and capricious violations” of the Act, as well as an additional $1,000 fine and/or two-year prison sentence if it can be proven that University employees willfully destroyed records. Unfortunately, for a university of its size and wealth, these fines clearly aren’t much of a deterrent.

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Comments on “Michigan University Claims Its Public Records Retention Period Is Whatever Each Employee Wants It To Be”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I also was totally confused since I know most of the universities in Michigan. You should probably edit it to say the University of Michigan.

Though I must state that this local paper (like most local papers I’ve been noticing lately) does a terrible job of listing the facts of who, what, when, and where and play on the fact they expect their readership to be local and understand implicitly who or what is being talked about. Little do these papers seem to understand is that the internet makes their readership able to be much much wider than their little neck of the woods.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I also was totally confused since I know most of the universities in Michigan. You should probably edit it to say the University of Michigan.

Yeah I agree, very confusing. I had to click the link to figure out who this story was about.

There is the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, but no “Michigan University” that I’ve ever heard of.

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