Know Your Rights- Clemson and the Freedom of Information Act

The Tiger recently published an article revealing emails relating to former Vice President Gail DiSabatino’s departure, which you can view by clicking on this sentence. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is mentioned in the 1st paragraph- but I wondered how many students knew about a journalist’s favorite law.

Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966, the FOIA is “a law that gives you the right to access information from the federal government.”

Because Clemson University is a South Carolina public institution, the FOIA applies to our campus as well.

The Clemson University website has a FOIA page, which you can view here. It could get pretty expensive if you request something hard to find. A photocopy fee is 25 cents a page and there’s a 5 dollar retrieval fee per request, but this is when it may be expensive:

“If an extensive search is required to locate the documents, the actual cost for the lowest-paid employee qualified to locate and produce the requested records. This charge will be calculated by multiplying the hourly rate of the employee by the amount of time needed to locate and produce the records.”

If you’re curious about the FOIA and public universities in general, the University of Michigan has an interesting page.

WANT TO FILE A FOIA REQUEST AT CLEMSON?

I emailed Evan Senken, Tiger News Editor and author of the article, to ask him about the process.

Can you describe the process of filing a FOIA request with Clemson?

“The process actually went by rather smoothly….I called the South Carolina Press Association and spoke with a lawyer about the terminology to use in my official request letter and how to be specific with exactly what I was looking for. Jackie [Alexander] had also sent me a link to a FOIA letter generator, which I entered the facts into then touched up a bit with the advice from the law office. I reached out to numerous employees of the university about who I should send it to and eventually found the right office to send it to.”

 How challenging was the process? How long did it take?

“I wouldn’t say that the process was too challenging, it was exciting (at least to me) to be working on such a big topic that everyone affiliated with the University. Once the papers are filed with Clemson, they have fifteen business days to respond. With the way the timing worked out, I filed mine towards the end of the semester so there were understandably more non-working days than if I had submitted during the semester. In total, it took a little over a month but with the holiday season it’s completely understandable.”

Did you meet any issues/resistance?

“I didn’t meet any resistance; everyone I came in to contact with was very helpful through the entire process.”

Evan supplied me with the link to the FOIA letter generator he mentioned in the first question. If you want to get started with a FOIA request, Clemson supplies the names and numbers of FOIA agents for each unit of the University:Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 10.03.44 AM

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