In a statement that has been likened to a news story in the Onion, the general counsel for the Texas A&M university system recently stated that according to university policy, A&M professors may not direct students to file public information requests with any of the system’s universities. At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a huge deal—one could argue that the policy is in place to protect sensitive internal information about the university. On closer inspection, however, the policy shows itself to be a serious infringement of academic freedom and students’ learning. Moreover, there is no policy like it at other Texas universities, or possibly at any university in the U.S., according to Hagit Limor, of the Society of Professional Journalists, as quoted here in the Austin-American Statesman.
Public information requests are essential to a journalist’s work, for all kinds of reporting, and universities should both allow and encourage professors to educate students about them. College students are more involved with their university than they are with any other entity; they will have a natural interest in the workings of their school. In towns like Stephenville, TX, where the A&M rule has played out recently, journalism students are more than an hour from a major city and will have even greater reason to investigate their own school as they learn the tools of the trade. Hopefully the negative media coverage of this issue will encourage A&M to look to its peers, revise its policies, and respect freedom of information.