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As Open-Records Requests Continue, NCTQ ‘Thrilled’ With Proposed Changes to State Laws

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) continues its data collection efforts for the planned 2016 edition of its Teacher Prep Review. As part of this pursuit, NCTQ is once again utilizing state open-records requests for information from public institutions that have chosen not to comply with NCTQ’s information requests—and at least one state is considering a change to open-records law.

The subject of lawsuits from NCTQ in Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin, several institutions around the country asserted that course syllabi are the intellectual property of their faculty and therefore covered by copyright law – protecting them from NCTQ’s open-records requests.

The courts in Minnesota and Wisconsin disagreed with the universities’ claim and ordered them to turn over the information NCTQ had requested. The Missouri Appeals Court, however, ruled in favor of the University of Missouri system, stating:

[…] in order to disclose the syllabi as requested by the NCTQ, the University would have to reproduce and distribute the syllabi. Thus, while the Federal Copyright Act does not explicitly protect against disclosure, it does protect against the means by which the requested disclosure would be obtained. Disclosing the syllabi to the NCTQ – through reproduction and distribution – would constitute a violation of the Federal Copyright Act. Therefore, the syllabi as requested are “protected from disclosure by [the Federal Copyright Act].” […] our holding is consistent with Attorney General Opinion No. 138-87, which held: “A record restricted from being copied by federal copyright law is a record ‘protected from disclosure by law’ […] to the extent that it is protected from being copied.” (pp. 8, 9)

Now as a result of the Missouri ruling, state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would require institutions to publish all course content online. In an interview with the Columbia Daily Tribune, Kate Walsh of NCTQ said that “we are thrilled that it’s being done.” While this is the first proposed change to open-records law stemming from NCTQ’s data request, institutions that withhold course syllabi on copyright grounds should meet with university counsel to determine the interpretation of their state’s open-records laws.

AACTE encourages its members to consult with program faculty and university staff as they determine how best to move forward with NCTQ’s requests. To assist members in this process, we have developed a variety of resources to help inform their decision. We will continue monitoring this process and provide updates to members as they become available.

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Zachary VanHouten

Manager of Programs and Advocacy, AACTE