Sunshine Week and the Wisconsin public records law
By Lisa Hull
Public Records Custodian, University of Wisconsin–Madison
March 11-17, 2018, has been designated Sunshine Week, a national initiative that emphasizes the importance of open and transparent government. As a state institution, UW–Madison is subject to the Wisconsin public records law.
Public records laws, sometimes called sunshine laws, exist so people are not “in the dark” about the workings of government. Wisconsin’s public records law declares, “… all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them.” The law also says providing requesters with such information is “an integral part of the routine duties of officers and employees.”
As a UW–Madison employee, you should be aware that most university records, including your emails, are public unless they contain information made private by the law. Examples of such private information includes student education records that are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99), patient health care records, unpublished research or information rendered confidential by state and federal privacy law. However, most of the records produced every day by employees are subject to release and will be disclosed if requested. The public records law presumes complete public access, and the denial of public access to university records is rare.
The public records law applies to all records reflecting your work for the university, whether those records exist on your work computer or a personal device or email account.
Records held by the university or created by university employees need to be kept in accordance with records schedules. You may delete or destroy records consistent with the records retention schedule.
If you receive a public records request, you should direct the requester to: UW-Madison Public Records Portal, or send it to the university’s public records custodian at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is on the Office of Compliance website.