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Minn. Colleges Must Turn Over Education Syllabi, Court Rules

UPDATED

Education schools within the Minnesota State Colleges and University system must comply with an open-records request and allow an outside research and advocacy organization to copy them, a district court judge ruled yesterday.

The Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality sued the public institutions to obtain the course syllabi as part of its contested national review of every teacher-preparation institution in the country.

The MnSCU system had agreed to make education syllabi available for review, but not for duplication. The institutions claimed that supplying photocopies would violate faculty intellectual-property rights established under a collective bargaining agreement, and also under the Federal Copyright Act.

(Faculty at only one of the seven MnSCU institutions, St. Cloud State University, agreed to release their syllabi to the council for duplication.)

But the judge disagreed, saying that the clause in the faculty contract was irrelevant in light of state open-records statutes, and that the FCA also permits "fair use" exemptions, including reproduction.

"Faculty members created the syllabi as part of their teaching duties, and, therefore, at public expense. They were turned over to the university and handed out to students in class ... the syllabi became public governmental data as a matter of law," the judge wrote.

Intellectual-property issues have raised their heads elsewhere as part of the NCTQ's review: Institutions in at least 10 other states have withheld documents for similar reasons, including in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Wisconsin.

Earlier this year, in January, the NCTQ also sued the University of Wisconsin to obtain materials from several of its institutions.

UPDATED, 2:39 p.m. NCTQ is still in negotiations with the Wisconsin institutions, and it has filed a complaint in Missouri against several public colleges there, the council's Arthur McKee tells me.

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