Texas A&M University recently barred its employees from telling students to file open records requests under the state's public information act. Now, a group of fifteen journalism organizations is weighing in on the debate.
A letter from the groups, posted on the Poynter journalism blog, accuses the University of using a "potentially illegal" policy to "squelch investigations by its own students."
It seems no coincidence that the System’s new policy interpretation follows closely on the heels of stories developed by the students of journalism instructor Dan Malone that uncovered problems in crime reporting on the Tarleton State campus and that inquired into the reasons for cancellation of a highly controversial student play.
The stories to which the letter refers both involve open records requests made by students at Tarleton University, one of 11 universities in the A&M System. The first resulted in Tarleton being fined $137,500 by the US Department of Education for failing to report crimes properly. (The fine was later reduced to $27,500, according to the Bryan/College Station Eagle.) The second story examined whether Gov. Perry and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst intervened to stop a play that portrayed Jesus as gay.
Texas A&M University System spokesperson Rod Davis defended the policy earlier this month in an interview with the Associated Press.
"It does not prevent (students) from getting public information," he said. "It specified in a very, very narrowly drawn manner (the) way they can do so. It absolutely does not inhibit their ability to find the information."
This group of journalists is not exactly going out on a limb to protest the A&M policy. The Austin-American Statesman's editorial board is almost a month ahead of them. It blasted A&M in this editorial from early December.
The nonsense: Teaching journalism without making students learn about open records requests is like teaching surgery without making students learn about scalpels. It can be done, but you want your surgeons to know about scalpels and you want your journalists to know about open records laws.