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Gag 'em, Aggies?

Texas A&M is keeping too many secrets

The Texas A&M University System apparently thought it had found a way to deal with pesky Tarleton State University journalism students and their irksome open-records requests. A Tarleton class, led by their Pulitzer-winning instructor, Dan Malone, has a long history of revealing things their public university system would rather keep private. In 2004, student open-records requests showed that Tarleton had failed to follow a federal law requiring accurate reporting of crime on its campus. The university had to pay a $27,500 fine. And in spring 2010, another of the class's open-records requests turned up phone records indicating that Austin politicians pressured the university to cancel a student production of Corpus Christi, the Terrence McNally play that features a gay Jesus.

This fall, when yet another Malone student filed a request for Tarleton's crime stats, university administrators referred the matter to their higher-ups in the A&M system. In response, lawyers dusted off a rule banning A&M system employees, in their official capacities, from filing open-records requests with any school in the system. The rule was apparently drafted in the mid-'90s after an employee pestered the system with frivolous requests, but it had never before been enforced. Open-records activists believe it may not even be legal — but the A&M system's lawyers not only used it to deny the request, they suggested that a professor's assigning open-records requests of the university - a fairly common practice in journalism schools - might be a firing offense.

That outrageous response has drawn protests from journalists and open-records activists across the country, and for good reason. The A&M system is a public entity, and public entities are required to reveal their workings to anyone who asks - even when it's inconvenient, uncomfortable or makes someone look bad. The university system belongs to all Texans. We need to know what it's up to.

The system's lawyers are backpedaling now, mealy-mouthing that they're "in the process of determining what is meant by the directive." They say now that since the assignment was optional, the rule may not apply. But the rule itself needs to go. And A&M needs to release those records ASAP - preferably with an apology.


Questionable policy

Regarding “Gag, ’em, Aggies?” (Page B9, Saturday), the editorial is correct in exposing the fallacies of the Texas A&M System policy prohibiting its employees from filing public information requests in their occupational capacities.

Texas Government Code Sec. 552.223 (Uniform Treatment of Requests for Information) states in part that “the officer for public information or the officer’s agent shall treat all requests for information uniformly without regard to the position or occupation of the requestor.”

Consequently, the Texas A&M Office of the General Counsel will encounter a difficult legal obstacle should it attempt to defend its misguided policy. Hopefully, A&M officials will come to their senses and spare themselves the potential expense and embarrassment of litigation should they invoke the policy in the discipline or dismissal of a system employee.

- Daniel Adams,

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