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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Annamarie Parker
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I am an English, Writing major with a double minor in German and journalism. I'm also pursuing my TESOL certificate while working for Housing and Residence Life. I love to travel and meet new people.

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

University’s chamber of secrets

       Formal FOIA requests currently required to access public documents in archives

Despite the university insisting media outlets avoid the use of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the university has closed certain archives and is requiring a FOIA to access them.

In October of 2014, an interim policy was created requiring that any university-created public document, such as meeting minutes, be obtained only through a formal FOIA process.

re-Archives

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Brent Graves, a biology professor and NMU union representative, attempted to research old American Association of University Professors’ contract negotiations when he was told he had to submit a FOIA request to view such documents.

Similarly, ASNMU President Katerina Klawes requested to inspect minutes from an NMU Board of Trustees meeting from 1954 and was also told she would have to file a formal FOIA request to view them.

Klawes had requested this information as a part of an individual research project on student governance for a class in the fall 2014 semester.

“I wasn’t going to go through the trouble for something that was public record,” Klawes said. “If I was here in 1954, I could have sat in on the meeting. That was disheartening to me as a student, and a number of my classmates shared that sentiment about having to FOIA records.”

The archives contains all university-created records, including academic and administrative documents, as well as regional historical documents.

Derek Hall, assistant vice president for identity, brand and marketing, provided a timeline for how the new document retrieval policy was implemented.

In February of 2014, NMU’s general counsel began a conversation about creating a policy for retrieving public documents from the archives.

In October of 2014, Marcus Robyns, university archivist and records manager, approached Gavin Leach, vice president of finance and administration, to set an interim policy requiring all archived university documents to be available only through a FOIA request.

This interim policy was put in place to allow Robyns time to write a new policy. This new policy will still require many documents to be obtained only through a formal FOIA request, however, it will also give Robyns room to judge if a document is benign enough to allow access without a FOIA. Factors Robyns can easily identify that would cause an exemption of public records disclosed include HIPPA, FERPA and client attorney privilege. However, Hall emphasized that the word “sealed” was an incorrect way to describe the current process.

“The archives are not sealed but they have sensitive information stored there and the university will always protect private information of students and employees,” Hall said. “The interim policy makes sure that we’re not releasing that information and we’re looking forward to a new policy provided by the archives staff.”

Robyns said this interim policy was in response to a previously lax policy under which he merely consulted the office where the records originated when they were requested to obtain permission to give the requesting party access to those records.

Hall said he expects the new policy to be finished in February or March of this year.

Robyns explained that all records follow a retention schedule, which outlines how long a record is stored before destruction. The average range of years a record is archived before destruction is between five and 11 years.

“You can’t destroy a record until it has legally met its retention schedule,” Robyns said. “If it’s permanent, it can’t legally be destroyed.”

Only about 2 to 5 percent of records collected by the archives become permanent records, Robyns said. These permanent records generally include most documents from the president’s office, correspondence related to important functions, minutes of meetings, photographs, audiovisual material and summary reports. Robyns also emphasized that the archives could not be sealed but rather the retrieval of records in the archives must be obtained through the formal FOIA process.

“The archives have not suddenly been sealed,” Robyns said. “It (the new policy) was put in place to formalize my previous process so that it’s consistent.”

Robyns said the goal of his new policy will be to create consistency in archives retrieval, increase transparency and provide broad access to public documents within the constraints of the FOIA law. It was made clear by both Hall and Robyns that this policy creation was not instigated by the NMU administration.

“No one from the administration has put pressure on me to restrict access to any records or to change any function of the archives,” Robyns said. “I was the instigator for the meeting with Gavin and the interim policy.”

Hall said he anticipates reviewing NMU’s FOIA retrieval process before the installation of the recently revised Michigan FOIA law, which goes into effect July 1.

“We’ve learned a lot throughout the last few months and I’m all for transparency,” Hall said. “I’m happy to chase down documents and provide information. Sometimes a FOIA makes sense but I’ve been far more successful that way.”

Hall also said in the near future, he wants to clarify the email retrieval process. This new policy creation is a part of the effort for transparency on the university’s part and Hall said he trusts in Robyns expertise to create an effective policy.

“Marcus knows what he’s talking about and he cares deeply about it,” Hall said.

Until the new policy is implemented, a formal FOIA request is necessary to access all public documents from the archives. Klawes said she feels this could be discouraging to students who could benefit from having access to public university records.

“Filling out the form itself is intimidating and it says on the form that there is a potential cost so as a student that could be a big deterrent because they don’t know how much it will cost,” Klawes said. “I think it’s too much of a time consuming process especially when they are public records.”

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