ARLINGTON, Va. — Jonathan Anderson, former Editor-in-Chief of the UWMPost at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is the 2009 winner of the”College Press Freedom Award” for his tireless advocacy in pressingfor greater access to public records from the university and its studentgovernment association.
The annual College Press Freedom Award is sponsored by the Student PressLaw Center and by the Associated Collegiate Press to honor an individual orgroup that has demonstrated courage in advancing free-press rights for collegejournalists. The award will be presented Oct. 31 at the National CollegeJournalism Convention in Austin, Texas, organized by the ACP and by CollegeMedia Advisers.
“Jonathan Anderson and the Post have been relentless in advocatingfor their university, and for all Wisconsin colleges, to honor their disclosureobligations so that the taxpayers can understand how their government agenciesare being run,” said Frank D. LoMonte, Executive Director of the StudentPress Law Center.
In April 2009, Anderson and the Post, joined by the staff of the UWMtelevision news program Panthervision, submitted a 147-page memorandum to theWisconsin Attorney General outlining the legal reasons that student governmentsstatewide should be open to the public like all other government agencies. ThePost had been refused access to records about the activities of UWM studentgovernment, including records documenting the use of state travel money bystudent officials.
“This award is a clear indication that the college press have animportant and unique role to play in the ever-increasing challenge to shinelight on government. Every day, at campuses all across the nation, studentjournalists are filing public records requests with their universityadministrations, student governments and elected officials — fighting forthe public’s right to know, and, in the words of former Supreme CourtJustice Hugo Black, ‘revealing the workings of government,'”
said Anderson, 22, a native of Hobart, Wis., who now serves as the Post’sspecial projects editor.
LoMonte said the award is especially timely because Anderson’s battlewith UWM helped bring to light fundamental flaws in the way educationalinstitutions and the U.S. Department of Education interpret federal studentprivacy laws to block access to newsworthy information. The Family EducationalRights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) requires that schools and collegeskeep grades and other personal student information confidential, but LoMontesaid colleges widely misapply — or intentionally abuse — the law towithhold public records that contain no private student information.
LoMonte said the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has been among the worstabusers of FERPA to deny legitimate open-records requests for information inwhich there is no valid privacy interest, including requests by the UWM Postfor:
The names of school administrators who sit on disciplinary committeesenforcing UWM student conduct rules. Transcripts and recordings of meetingsof a university committee on student activity fees, which meets in public and onwhich students serve as voting members.
“This award recognizes that the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukeedoes an excellent job of teaching journalism, but a disgracefully bad job incomplying with its obligations under the open records act,” LoMonte said.”Anyone who is considering attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukeeshould ask why this college works so hard to conceal information that otherpublic institutions would readily disclose.”
Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been devoted to educatinghigh school and college journalists about the rights and responsibilitiesembodied in the First Amendment, and supporting the student news media incovering important issues free from censorship. The Center provides freeinformation and educational materials for student journalists and their teacherson a wide variety of legal topics on its website at www.splc.org.