A state judge has blocked the University of Kansas from releasing the correspondence of a lecturer who previously worked for the conservative Koch brothers until the court can sort out whether the documents are covered by the state’s open-records laws.
Judge Robert Fairchild of the state district court for Douglas County, Kan., on Thursday issued a temporary restraining order barring the university from releasing the correspondence of Arthur Hall, director of the university’s Center for Applied Economics, based on the judge’s conclusion that forwarding the documents to a student advocacy group could harm Mr. Hall and chill academic freedom.
The university had been prepared to hand over the documents on Friday to Students for a Sustainable Future, which had sought them in an effort to try to show that the conservative activists Charles and David Koch were using their wealth to unduly influence the university, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.
In several other recent controversies in which academics have been subject to open-records requests they regarded as threatening their academic freedom, they have been backed by the universities that employed them in seeking to withhold such documents. The University of Virginia, for example, this year successfully fought off a conservative advocacy group’s efforts to obtain the records of a climate scientist who had previously worked there.
In an interview on Friday, Tim Caboni, a University of Kansas spokesman, told The Chronicle that his institution had taken the position that Mr. Hall is a public employee whose correspondence is presumed to be covered by the state’s relatively expansive open-records law unless the documents fall under exemptions applying to research and works in progress.
“We want to follow the letter of the law as closely as possible and err on the side of the transparency,” Mr. Caboni said. He added: “We welcome the opportunity for the judge to weigh in on the case and provide clarity to guide us.”
Mr. Hall, an outspoken free-market advocate who previously was chief economist for the public-sector group of Koch Industries Inc., argued in a lawsuit challenging the records request that it threatened his academic freedom and that his correspondence was not covered by it because the documents relate to work financed with private, not public, funds.