Student wants university to unlock e-mail records

COLORADO -- Officials at the University of Colorado at Boulder claim the school has turned over all the records requested by student Shannon Meadors, but Meadors tells a different story.

She claims the university has been in violation of state open-records laws since April, when she first requested e-mail records from 16 individuals, including state employees and student government officials. In July, there were four people from whom Meadors said she had not received records she requested on behalf of her student political group.

Meadors said the university did not respond to her request within the time limits set forth in Colorado state law, which she consulted throughout the process of attempting to obtain the records.

At the end of a three-day period after the request was made, the school should have provided Meadors with written notice about the status of her request, she said. She said she received no such notice, but after a mandatory 10-day response period, Meadors was told that the records were unavailable.

"I think they tried to throw us off in the beginning, hoping we would go away," Meadors said. "It's been a trying experience."

Meadors also said officials threatened to impose excessive fees, such as a charge of $1.25 just to view copies of each record.

The university contends it was protecting the privacy of the students from whom Meadors had requested e-mail records by determining whether those students were considered state employees who would thus be subject to the state's open-records law.

"It was the question of whether we would treat university student e-mails the same as we would treat university employees, which is clearly a matter of public record," said Bobbi Barrow, executive director of institutional relations. "It was a matter of the legal review needing to be done."

Barrow said that review found that the school did indeed have to produce the students' e-mails, and subsequently, all of those documents were produced.

"As far as I know, we provided everything that Shannon asked for," Barrow said. "The decision was made that student e-mails were equal in terms of our requirement to produce them as employee e-mail."

However, Meadors said that not only are there records she has not received, but that some of the four remaining individuals claim to know nothing about her request.

"It's interesting that the university is saying that they've given us all the records we've requested when we've got one person we requested records from saying that he never received any notification that he was supposed to give us those," Meadors said.

Meadors first became interested in looking at the records after Gravy, her student political group, requested an investigation into problems with the electronic voting system used in the school's student government elections.

She said the school issued a statement acknowledging there were problems with the system, but not with the recent election. Meadors and her group wanted to see the reports used to prepare that statement and e-mails detailing communication between executives on the issue.

Although Meadors said she will still attempt to round up the remaining records, she does not expect to find anything of value in them.

"At this point, any of the e-mail records for those people that had any amount of significance whatsoever are going to be gone," Meadors said.

Fall 2000, reports