In the latest development in Civitas’ quest to pry public records out of the University of North Carolina, Dean Jack Boger of the UNC Law School was recently quoted as saying:
“The open records act permits citizens and institutions to request such records without clarifying what their motives are,” says Boger. “I think some within the university — I’m probably one of them – think there ought to be some sort of statutory restraint placed on that capacity. You could bring a university to its knees by simply asking every one of its 1,200 faculty members to ‘give me your last six weeks of emails,’ and have it all sorted through.”
Boger’s latest comments appeared in a newspaper story about professor Gene Nichol, head of the Poverty Center at the UNC Law School, and the Civitas Institute’s fight to see some of the emails Nichol produced while serving as a public employee at the offices of a public institution.
It’s astonishing that the dean of a law school thinks that “motives” should restrain the rights of the people to know what their employees are doing. But of course motives can excuse everything, or nothing.
How could any statute define “good motives” for a records request? Who would decide which motives were good enough? The agency stonewalling the records request?
Moreover, liberals always want their good motives and fine intentions to excuse any blunders, crimes or catastrophes their policies inflict on innocent people.
That’s why state law says that no one needs a reason for seeking or getting public records. We are the public. Public institutions — from the local dog catcher to the University of North Carolina — report to us. We are their bosses. If your boss wants to see what you’ve been doing in your job, don’t you think he has a right to know? Well, that’s also our right to know. People at UNC work for us; they report to us; and if they don’t want to tell us what they are doing or show us documents they produce on their jobs, they need to seek employment with a private employer.
Most important, Dean Borger doesn’t grasp what open records laws are all about. “We don’t live in a society in which people can decide they don’t like what a professor says or believes in a university, and simply take them out of it,” he says in that article. “That’s why we have tenure. That’s why we have very strong protection for academic freedom.”
The good dean is of course dodging the point. A records request is not a termination notice. It is a request for a public employee to produce documents he or she has produced during the course of work on the public’s behalf.
Our requests could be meant to laud the Poverty Center’s work. After all, if it has found a way to end poverty, all of us would like to hear it.
So, why is Dean Borger so worried about records requests? He raises the specter of anxious citizens bringing UNC to its knees with a flurry of records requests. Well, it would also be a problem if alien invaders landed in Chapel Hill, but that hasn’t happened yet either.
Could he be worried about what would happen if too much was known about how the UNC Law School uses the public’s money and resources? And does the dean’s attitude color the school’s response to the clear letter of the open records law?