Court orders N.Y. university to hand over biotech research files

NEW YORK — A former radio show talk host finally received some documents he requested from Cornell University almost four years ago after a state court in February ordered the university to turn over information on its biotechnology research.

Jeremy Alderson, an opponent of the university’s research on genetically-modified organisms, requested information about the safety procedures and financial contracts used by the university in that research. Alderson filed suit in December 2000 after the university denied his requests, claiming that because Cornell is primarily a private school, it is not subject to New York’s Freedom of Information Law.

Judge Robert Mulvey of the Tompkins County Supreme Court ruled Feb. 10 that Cornell must turn over 83 of the 134 documents related to Alderson’s request: 19 in their entirety and 64 with some “individually identifiable” information blacked out.

Mulvey’s ruling was consistent with decisions by the Supreme Court Appellate Division and the New York Court of Appeals, which remanded the case to Tompkins County, where the case was first heard. Each court has said that although Cornell University is a private institution, it is performing a public function by partnering with the State University of New York to conduct its biotechnology research, and is therefore subject to the state open-records law.

CASE: Alderson v. Cornell University, et al., Index No. 2000-1150 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Tompkins Co. Feb. 10, 2004)