U-M faculty member plans demonstration Tuesday against Mackinac Center's FOIA requests
One University of Michigan faculty member wants to make sure university leaders take great care in responding to the controversial Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the Mackinac Center late last month.
Robinson is planning a public demonstration at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday by gathering with supporters near The Cube next to the Michigan Union and walking to the Fleming Administration Building to hand the petition to university president Mary Sue Coleman.
“We thought we’d walk in and present it to the president or whoever is there,” he said. “It’s fairly low key, but I thought that way would be good to have some people who signed it and cared about the issue to be there visibly.”
The Mackinac Center filed FOIA requests to U-M, Michigan State University and Wayne State University labor studies departments asking for emails that mention collective bargaining disputes in Wisconsin. Among the terms explicitly mentioned by the center are “Walker,” “Wisconsin,” “Madison” and “Maddow” — as in MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
The Mackinac Center has received death threats and other communications since the filing of the requests.
Robinson said he’s asking U-M officials only to follow the example of University of Wisconsin officials when they responded to similar requests for emails of professor William Cronon. The university did not provide emails that were related to students, potential students, professorial organizations, personal communications, intellectual communications among scholars and communications related to personnel matters, all of which amounted to a denial of the request.
“It’s a very reasonable request,” Robinson said. “The fact that another major public university has done it, I think the odds are pretty good.”
Robinson said one of his main concerns was that the Mackinac Center has not stated what it plans to do with the information requested.
Ken Braun, director of MichiganTransparency.Org for the Mackinac Center, wrote in a blog post on April 4 that the center was following up on a story it had done a year before on the WSU Labor Studies Center.
“The unfolding of the Wisconsin turmoil and the pitched debate over the Michigan legislation provided us an opportunity to chase an old story with a FOIA,” Braun wrote. “Specifically, we were interested in determining whether the LSC and the labor faculty at Michigan’s other two large public universities had actively employed university resources to enter the political debates.”
Robinson said he’s found the request to be suspect and questioned the center's motivation.
“It’s hard to imagine that they had some other intent than to say, ‘Maybe we can get one or two things and get some information that can embarrass the university of individuals supporting workers in Wisconsin and Michigan,’” he said. “Or, they are trying to intimidate individuals by making them not participate any more by making them fearful of participating.”