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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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2014 @ 3:56pm

    Because ... Terrorism!

    I not sure quite how yet, but I expect the University to at some point claim that this is somehow related to fighting terrorism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2014 @ 3:59pm

    Semantics but there is no school "Michigan University". I initially started reading article because I want to know which University in Michigan was being discussed. The school is the University of Michigan.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile), 13 Nov 2014 @ 4:06pm

    HEY!

    Isn't that the NSA records management protocol?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2014 @ 4:52pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gwiz (profile), 14 Nov 2014 @ 12:13pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2014 @ 1:08pm

      Re:

      The Michigan Daily is the student newspaper at University of Michigan, so it's always been a little hit and miss as far as journalistic competency.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    KRA, 13 Nov 2014 @ 5:10pm

    It used to be that public employees were advised to be careful about what they put in emails. The assumption was that the information would be available through FOI. I miss those days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Eldakka (profile), 13 Nov 2014 @ 10:56pm

    Unfortunately, for a university of its size and wealth, these fines clearly aren't much of a deterrent.


    That's where the 2-years in prison comes in. If $1000 isn't much of a deterrant, I'm sure throwing people in prison, even if it's only for a month or 2, might start changing minds.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Just Another Anonymous Troll, 14 Nov 2014 @ 7:12am

    Remind me to get a job there.
    The record retention period is now infinity, plus 2 days. I will enforce this by rising from the grave as a zombie after dying, and eating the brains of everyone who dares to even suggest discarding anything.
    If I get fired for being a zombie I'll sue for racial discrimination.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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