Remember that Kumbaya moment last week when NMU President Fritz Erickson said, “Give the North Wind all the emails they want in their FOIA request and let’s not charge them a doggone dime! Can’t we all just get along here?”
Well, that moment has passed.
On Monday, NMU did in fact forward a reported 1100 emails to Emma Finkbeiner, the North Wind editor, but surprise, surprise, the emails–those sent from administrator to administrator–are heavily redacted.
Like, blacked out. Like, in some cases, you can’t even determine what the subject matter is.
And then some emails, according to Finkbeiner and faculty advisor Cheryl Reed, are simply missing.
The reason given for the missing or redacted emails? NMU says either they didn’t exist or to publicize them would be to violate people’s privacy.
So there you have it. Not exactly what the North Wind was hoping for in its FOIA request.
Quick background: The emails were requested under the Freedom of Information Act because two North Wind staff members claim they were threatened by administrators if the newspaper, in its investigative stories, didn’t stop making FOIA requests of the university.
One student claimed an administrator told her she might be denied good faculty references if the FOIA’s didn’t stop. Another student claimed an administrator threatened the continued funding of the newspaper.
The requested emails that might conceivably shine light on possible “intimidation” were to come from seven administrators: President Fritz Erickson, VP Gavin Leach, Dean Michael Broadway, VP Steven Neiheisel, Assistant Provost Dale Kapla, Provost Paul Lang and Department Head James Cantrill.
The North Wind staff now has the emails (at least some of them), but with the heavy redactions, they’re useless.
Was there a discussion among administrators to “intimidate” the newspaper staff? If so, it’s buried under the blackouts.
So there’s got to be an appeal process here, right? Absolutely. It can be appealed to….uh…well…lemme see here…uh…yeah…the appeal goes to…uh…NMU President Fritz Erickson.
He’ll decide whether the redactions were appropriate.
Actually, you gotta feel sorry for Erickson. He just assumed the reins of NMU last year–a new day!–and now he’s got to deal with this mess.
Either stonewall the newspaper, keep the redactions and endure a prolonged public relations nightmare, or eliminate the redactions and possibly jeopardize the status of some of his administrators.
It’s simple. The continued redactions and the apparent absence of other emails just feed the suspicion that there was a plan or at least an understanding among administrators that the newspaper staff could and should be intimidated.
Not a pretty picture. Not a comfortable position for Erickson.
If he denies the appeal to eliminate the redactions and include more emails–Bets, anyone??–then the North Wind says they’ll take the matter to Circuit Court.
Rah, rah! Go Wildcats go! Ain’t college life great?
(Update. NMU spokesperson Derek Hall disputes that the emails were “heavily” redacted. By his count, only eight were totally redacted, and another 30-35 were partially redacted. As for the alleged “missing” emails, Hall says they tried to provide everything that was asked for. He emphasizes that President Erickson wanted as few redactions as possible in the emails. He also points out that so far, NMU has spent $1062 on the FOIA request, not including legal costs.)
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