By Adam Rubenfire, Daily News Editor
Published October 23, 2012
Though other universities have approved requests for the release of the graduate school application of James Holmes — the 24 year old charged in the mass shooting that took place at an Aurora, Colo. movie theater in July — the University denied a Freedom of Information Act request to view his denied application to the University’s neuroscience graduate program.
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In a letter to The Michigan Daily on Tuesday, Gary Krenz, special counsel to University President Mary Sue Coleman, denied the Daily’s appeal to the University’s initial denial for the documents early this month.
In a Sept. 11 letter to The Michigan Daily, Patricia Sellinger, the University’s FOIA coordinator, said an Aug. 31 request to review Holmes’s application was denied because disclosing the application would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of an individual’s privacy,” which is an excerpt from Section 13 (1)(a) of the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, and details exemptions from the act.
The state’s FOIA law details how public records should be released and what types of records and information do not have to be released, or are exempt from the law.
In his response to the Daily’s appeal, Krenz wrote that the University generally deems applications as exempt from FOIA.
“It is our considered assessment that a student application is an integral record and that disclosure of any part of it would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy,” Krenz wrote.
Though Michigan’s FOIA law allows for private information within a document to be redacted, Krenz wrote that the release of any part of an application would put the entire admissions process in jeopardy.
“The release of a student application in this or other cases would have, we believe, deleterious effect on the applicants and on the admissions process, and we consequently believe that the University and the public are best served by protecting the integrity and confidentiality of that process,” Krenz said. “We therefore respectfully decline to release any part of the record.”
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the University’s response to the FOIA request is consistent with how it has responded to previous requests for student applications.
“It’s our view that is the private business of that individual,” Fitzgerald said.
When asked if exempting student applications from release is an official procedure followed by the University’s FOIA office, Fitzgerald said it is simply the University’s general interpretation of the law.
“It’s not a policy, it’s how that type of record — we see a student application record as not something that we’re required to release under FOIA,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald added that upon review of the application, the University believes that it is exempt from FOIA in its entirety.
“We’ve looked at this document, and we believe that this document in total … is exempt,” Fitzgerald said.
The University’s denial comes after officials at the University of Iowa, the University of Illinois and the University of Alabama released Holmes’s graduate applications after receiving requests, which Fitzgerald acknowledged.
“I can also appreciate with other schools in other states operating under … somewhat different FOIA laws may have come to other decision on releasing that material,” Fitzgerald said.
However, all three universities exist in states that have similar or less restrictive FOIA laws than Michigan.