Connecticut upholds Freedom of Information Act against UConn professor

On Nov. 30, the Connecticut Supreme Court unanimously struck down an attempt to prevent the release of a document stating allegations that a former University of Connecticut Health Center professor, Jay R. Lieberman, was abusive to his staff. Lieberman tried to make the case that the document in question was an evaluation and thus, not subject to release. Nevertheless, the court held firm ground, citing the Freedom of Information Act as a blanket law, and that the lines between evaluation and highlighting misconduct are generally similar enough to be subject to the same tenets.

While we can agree that no one is without his or her shortcomings as a co-worker, teacher or person in general, there is a line that invokes the need for accountability. Michael Aronow, surgeon and subordinate to Lieberman, said Lieberman’s “incivility, vindictiveness, attempted intimidation, disrespectfulness and harassment” extended to not solely him, but also to hospital staff, medical students and others. Provided these allegations were true, action needed to be taken against Lieberman to curb his behavior or terminate him entirely. 

There was a flaw in this whole procedure, however. After the UConn administration looked into Lieberman’s behavior, they also would not comply in sending Aronow the results of two investigative reports; hence, the critical need for trial. That said, it is one issue if the person in question (who maintains a clear bias for self-preservation) is withholding information, and another if the university, who likely has a much clearer idea of the Freedom of Information Act, does not cooperate.

It is abundantly clear UConn needs to be more transparent as to avoid legal inconveniences like this. Assuming the administration was aware of the repercussions, it seems illogical they would violate the law to cover for a man who presented himself as a minor liability for the Health Center.

Then again, the university is no stranger to questionably interpreting the FOIA. This past June, according to UConn, the Board of Trustees voted on a $1.3 billion budget for 2016 without any public discussion. UConn maintains what they did was permitted under the FOIA, citing General Statutes 1-210(b)(1): “Preliminary drafts or notes provided the public agency has determined that the public interest in withholding such documents clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.” But one can assume that if a budget proposal has reached the board of trustees for debate, it’s clearly not a preliminary draft at that point.

The Freedom of Information Act is a vital law because it creates transparency and, in turn, greater accountability. UConn must understand that it is not invincible, and very much subject to the provisions in this rule.