FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Ronald Eckert and The Daily Campus,
against Docket #FIC 87-361
Director, Office of Institutional Research, University of Connecticut at Storrs,
Respondent August 24, 1988
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on February 25, 1988, and April 14, 1988, at which times the parties appeared and presented evidence and argument on the complaint.
After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found:
1. The respondent is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.
2. By letter dated November 23, 1987, the complainants requested copies of teacher evaluations by students, known as the "Survey on Courses and Teaching."
3. By letter dated November 25, 1987, the respondent denied the complainants' request.
4. By letter of complaint mailed on December 3, 1987, the complainants alleged that the respondent violated the disclosure requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.
5. The hearing officer permitted the following individuals to participate as parties and to be represented by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP, hereinafter): Morton Tenzer, Bruce M. Stave, Elliot Wolk, Thomas P. Weinland, Crawford L. Elder, Cynthia H. Adams, David Jordan, Karla Fox and Paul A. Kramer.
6. The hearing officer denied the motion to participate in the hearing as a party which was filed by the University of Connecticut Chapter of the American Association of University Professors. However, the hearing officer permitted the University of Connecticut Chapter to participate as intervenor and representative of the faculty members who had submitted objections to disclosure of the results of the survey as such results pertained to their courses.
Docket #FIC 87-361 page two
7. At hearing the complainants clarified their request indicating that what they wanted was that part of the survey which rated faculty members in the following categories:
(a) Overall teaching ability
(b) Presenting material in a clear and effective manner
(c) Demonstrating overall organization
(d) Making purpose and objectives of course clear
(e) Fulfilling course objectives
(f) Making work assignments and student responsibilities clear
(g) Stimulating interest
(h) Grading fairly and impartially
(i) Using examination items which stress important aspects of course
(j) Being accessible to students both in and out of class
(k) Showing an interest in and a concern for students
8. The AAUP claims the requested survey is exempt from disclosure under 1-19(b)(2), G.S.
9. It is found that the student ratings of courses and teaching are conducted annually by the university.
10. It is found that the survey results constitute one component of the process for deciding tenure, promotion, reappointment and other merit-based decisions.
11. It is found that the public has a legitimate interest in the qualifications of the faculty at the University of Connecticut.
12. It is found that the University of Connecticut has promised confidentiality to the faculty members whose courses are evaluated.
13. It is found that a promise of confidentiality is not sufficient to override the public disclosure requirement of 1-19(a), G.S.
14. The AAUP claims that the evaluations in some cases may be unreliable, and if publicized may unfairly stigmatize some individual faculty members as poor teachers.
15. The AAUP claims that disclosure may have serious negative consequences for the careers of some teachers.
16. It is found that, unlike the respondent herein, at universities and colleges where students conduct independent surveys of courses and teacher performance, the schools release institutionally sponsored student evaluations of courses, voluntarily.
Docket #FIC 87-361 page three
17. It is concluded that the AAUP failed to prove that negative consequences, which faculty members fear, would result from disclosure of the survey on courses and teaching.
18. It is found, further, since the survey is a tool used for evaluating faculty performance, that the public interest in the evaluations is greater than the possible embarrassment of individual faculty members which may result from its publication.
19. It is concluded that the requested records are not exempt from disclosure under 1-19(b)(2), G.S.
20. The AAUP claims that 1-20a(b) and (c), G.S., are unconstitutional, and therefore, the respondent cannot be required to disclose the required records.
21. It is found that this Commission lacks jurisdiction to decide the constitutional claims raised by the AAUP.
22. It is found that on June 3, 1977, this Commission determined in Docket #FIC77-87 that evaluations of faculty members at the University of Connecticut by students were exempt from disclosure.
23. It is found that the administration of the university and many faculty members have relied upon the 1977 decision and have maintained the confidentiality of the evaluations.
24. It is found because the records sought by the complainant were compiled in reliance upon the decision #FIC 87-77, that it is not appropriate to order disclosure of the portion of the faculty evaluations which the complainants requested.
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint.
1. With respect to faculty evaluations collected after the date of this final decision, those portions of the faculty evaluations which have been found herein to be public records subject to disclosure shall be disclosed to any person submitting a request for such record pursuant to 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S.
Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its special meeting of August 24, 1988.
Catherine H. Lynch
Acting Clerk of the Commission