University of Michigan and Michigan's Freedom of Information Act

As a public institution in the state of Michigan, the University of Michigan is subject to provisions of the state's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Under the FOIA, "all persons, except those persons incarcerated in state or local correctional facilities, are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and public employees...." Consequently, any individual other than a federal, state or county prisoner has the right to inspect and/or receive copies of public records maintained by the University.

If you wish to request public records from any of the University’s three campuses, this website is designed to assist you. You may browse each of the selections below or go directly to “How to file a FOIA with U-M”.

For more detailed information on FOIA, visit the

Michigan Attorney General website on the Act

What is a public record?
Can some records be withheld?
How much time does the University have to respond?
Fees for retrieving and copying documents
Can I inspect a public record in person?
What recourse do I have if denied information?
Student Records
Research Records
How to file a FOIA request with the University

What is a public record?

The FOIA broadly defines a public record as a "writing prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by a public body in the performance of an official function, from the time it is created."

The law defines a "writing" as "handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostatting, photographing, photocopying, and every other means of recording, and includes letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combinations thereof, and papers, maps, magnetic or paper tapes, photographic films or prints, microfilm, microfiche, magnetic or punched cards, discs, drums, or other means of recording or retaining meaningful content." E-mail messages are considered public records under the FOIA if they deal with University business. However, the law specifically excludes computer software from the definition of public record.

Requests for records should be as specific as possible. The law notes that requests should describe "a public record sufficiently to enable the public body to find the public record..."

Please note that the University is not required to make a compilation, summary or report of information, or to create a new public record. It is required to provide "future issuances of public records that are created, issued, or disseminated on a regular basis" if requested. Such "subscriptions" are valid for up to six months, and are renewable.

A person's correspondence requesting information under the FOIA is itself considered a public record.

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Can some records be withheld?

The law recognizes that in some instances the public interest may be better served by not disclosing information. FOIA provides a number of exemptions ranging from matters of privacy to confidential research-related information. However, all of these exemptions are optional, with one exception. The exemption protecting student records, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), is mandatory.

At the University, the decision whether material should be withheld is made by the FOIA Officer, if necessary after consultation with other appropriate offices including the General Counsel's Office. The FOIA Officer has the authority, delegated by the President, to deny a FOIA request.

(See Student Records and Research Records for more information regarding those University records categories.)

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How much time does the University have to respond?

A request must be in writing (which includes e-mail and fax). The University has five business days in which to respond, although the response period can be extended by the FOIA Officer up to an additional 10 business days. Day 1 of the response period is considered to be the next business day following receipt of the written request. Sometimes requests involve voluminous documents spread over several departments. In those cases, full compliance with the request may take longer than 15 business days.

A FOIA request can be submitted to any office at the University and that office is responsible for promptly forwarding the request to the FOIA Office. However, persons are encouraged to submit their requests directly to the FOIA Office to avoid inadvertent delays.

The FOIA Officer can either grant a request; deny it in full or in part, citing one or more exemptions specified in the FOIA; or certify that the requested document(s) doesn’t exist.

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Fees for retrieving and copying documents

The University may charge a fee for the search, review, copying and mailing of documents. Generally, the University does not charge a fee if fewer than two hours of work are involved. In calculating the cost of labor incurred, the University can charge the hourly wage of the "lowest paid ... employee capable of retrieving the information." Copying costs are charged at 5 cents per page.

If it's determined that a fee should be charged, the FOIA Office notifies the requester of the estimated cost and asks whether he/she wants to proceed. If the estimate exceeds $50.00, the FOIA enables the University to require a good faith deposit of up to half the estimate before beginning the search for documents.

The first $20 of a fee must be waived for a person who is on welfare or presents facts showing inability to pay because of indigency.

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Can I inspect a public record in person?

Yes, the University is required to provide "a reasonable opportunity for inspection and examination of its public records, and shall furnish reasonable facilities for making memoranda or abstracts from its public records during the usual business hours" (8 a.m.-5 p.m. on business days). However, the University may make reasonable rules to protect its records and to prevent excessive and unreasonable interference with the discharge of its functions. Please note that in some instances where original documents contain exempt information, the exempt material may be removed and copies made for inspection.

Please note that there still may be a fee charged for the cost of searching for and reviewing the original records before the requester can examine them.

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What recourse do I have if denied information?

The University must explain in writing to the requester that within 180 days from the date of the University's denial of information, the requester can seek judicial review in the circuit court or first appeal in writing to the President of the University. If the denial is not reversed by the President, or if the President fails to respond within the prescribed time period, the requester still can seek judicial review. The President has 10 days to respond to the appeal; 20 days under unusual circumstances.

The requester can file suit to compel disclosure in the county where the requester lives, the county where the requester does business, the county where the public document is located, or a county where the public body has an office. If the requester seeks judicial review, the burden is on the University to sustain the denial. An adverse ruling can result in the assessment of reasonable attorney's fees, costs and disbursements in whole or in part, to the University. Additionally, the University can be charged punitive damages of $500 if the court finds it acted arbitrarily and capriciously in its denial.

The University cannot destroy a document once it has been requested. If the FOIA Officer denies the request, the document must be retained for at least 180 days from the date of the denial letter.

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Student Records

Student records are protected from disclosure through FOIA under a federal law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA). In most instances, the University does not release material contained in student records except for information designated as "public information." Currently enrolled students may elect to have such public information withheld by filing a written request with the Registrar's Office during each term they are enrolled.

The University has designated the following information as public:
(1) name
(2) permanent and local address and telephone
(3) U-M school or college
(4) class level
(5) major field
(6) dates of attendance
(7) degree received and date awarded
(8) honors and awards received
(9) participation in recognized activities
(10) previous school(s) attended
(11) height and weight of members of intercollegiate athletics teams

Individuals wishing to verify a student's attendance at U-M may call the Registrar (734-764-6280) or the Diploma Office (734-764-9206).

For more information, see the U-M Registrar's website "Student Rights and Student Records"

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Research Records

The Confidential Research Information Act (CRIA) was enacted in 1994 to protect confidential research, intellectual property, and trade secret records maintained by a public university or college in Michigan. Under the Freedom of Information Act, CRIA may be cited as an exemption for such records.

Under CRIA, trade secrets, commercial information and financial information provided to the University by a private external source may be withheld from disclosure if all of the following conditions are met:

(a) The information is used exclusively for research, testing, evaluation, and related activities;

(b) The information is designated as confidential by the external source before or at the time it is received;

(c) The University has entered into an authorized agreement to keep the information confidential;

(d) A document containing a general description of the information to be received under the confidentiality agreement, the term of the agreement, the name of the external entity with whom the agreement was made, and a general description of the nature of the intended use for the information, is recorded by the University within 20 regular working days after it is received. This document must be maintained in a central place and made available upon request.

Information developed by employees of the University also may be exempt from disclosure. The following exemptions apply:

(a) Intellectual property created by a person employed by or under contract to the University until a reasonable opportunity is provided for the information to be published*;

(b) Original works of authorship created by a person employed by or under contract to the University until a reasonable opportunity is provided for the author to secure copyright registration*;

(c) Records regarding a patentable invention until a reasonable opportunity is provided for the inventor to secure patent protection*;

(d) Trade secrets or other proprietary information that is determined to have potential commercial value, if a general description of the nature of the information and the University's interest is made available upon request.

*Please note that CRIA includes time limitations for exemptions for these records.

For more information, link to CRIA

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How to file a FOIA request with the University

Lee Doyle is the chief Freedom of Information officer at the University of Michigan. Patricia Sellinger is Freedom of Information Act Coordinator in the FOIA Office. They may be reached by phone at (734) 763-5082. The office is responsible for handling FOIA requests made to the Flint and Dearborn campuses as well as to the Ann Arbor campus. Assistance at the regional campuses is provided by Jennifer Hogan, Director of University Relations, UM-Flint (810-762-3351), and Judy Modelski, Assistant to the Vice Chancellor, UM-Dearborn (313-436-9158).

  • Written FOIA requests should be sent to the University of Michigan FOIA Office, 2025 Fleming Building, 503 Thompson Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1340. Requests can be faxed to the office at (734) 763-1399. They also can be e-mailed to Sellinger at patsell@umich.edu.

  • Please specify with as much detail as possible the records you wish to inspect and/or receive copies of. For example, if applicable please include the time period involved, and the department where the documents may be located, if you know it.

  • Please include your mailing address and daytime phone number, as well as an e-mail address and fax number if applicable.

 

Click here to send a FOIA request via e-mail

 

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