The National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit educational group, filed a suit on January 26 against the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents after the board and UW System schools refused an open records request over the release of education course syllabi.
The Council, along with the U.S. News and World Report, is undergoing a national review, of the nation’s 1,400 colleges of education that has been met with resistance from some school’s administrations.
The suit arose after UW System President Kevin Reilly sent the council a letter last spring saying that there are “serious concerns” about the review and that after consultation with the Deans of Education, they “would not be participating in this rating survey, as it is currently designed.”
UW System spokesman David Giroux said, “We’ve long held that those syllabi are not subject to open records requests,” but was not at liberty to discuss pending litigation.
“While we welcome fair assessment and encourage public sharing of our strengths and weaknesses, we believe your survey will not accomplish these goals,” said Katy Heyning, President of the Wisconsin Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, in a letter to the council last April. Heyning is also the Dean of Education at the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater.
“In our studies national accreditation does not show evidence that teachers are more prepared,” said Arthur McKee, the Managing Director for Teacher Preparation Studies.
On the council’s website they note that no college of education from Wisconsin has complied with their request so far.
The University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point denied the Council’s request on November 8 of last year, and was the first UW school to do so, according to the suit.
“The Wisconsin Board of Regents has adopted policies providing that course materials, including syllabi, are the intellectual property of the faculty and instructors who create them,” said Katherine Jore, the records custodian at UWSP.
The letter goes on to state that the university is willing to grant the council’s other requests for records but would require a $500 fee in order to do so.
At the heart of the case is whether or not course syllabi are subject to the state’s open records laws. The UW System claims that they are not because they are “subject to copyright.”
The council responds by claiming that nothing in the Wisconsin statutes protect records that are subject to copyright from disclosure, and even then they should be granted access due to federal laws of fair use for “criticism, comment, news reporting, scholarship or research.”
The request “is not to reproduce or disseminate these syllabi or to use them for commercial purposes, but to evaluate the content of the associated courses in connection with a national evaluation.”
The UW System is not the only university system to have issues with the review being conducted by the council. The council lists 25 other states that have sent letters to them saying they are refusing to participate in the review process.
“We have received a lot of institutional pushback,” McKee said, “though three-quarters of the flagship institutions around the nation are cooperating.”