Court: Public has no right to know what is being taught in public universities

Ruling comes from Missouri Court of Appeals Western District.

The ruling says syllabi for public schools are intellectual property, not public documents.

Lawsuit was filed by the National Council on Teacher Equality, which was working on a project with "U.S. News & World Report"

Syllabi for public school courses are intellectual property and not public documents, according to a ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals late last month.

This ruling by the Western District came after the National Council on Teacher Equality (NCTQ) was denied access to University of Missouri course syllabi for a project it was conducting in conjunction with U.S. News & World Report.

Kate Walsh, president of NCTQ, told the Student Press Law Center that her education research and advocacy group was “dismayed and surprised” by the ruling.

The ruling, if upheld, may create a dangerous precedent: all published documents can be denied from public view by simply having the employee claim personal ownership rights to the materials in question, according to Kate Walsh, president of the NCTQ.

This, however, is not the first time the University of Missouri has been protective of its faculty. UM’s Office of the Provost says that, for the sake of “the sanctity of classroom discussion,” students may only record a class with a professor’s permission or as part of an accommodation for disabilities. In either situation, students are forbidden from disseminating their recordings without the permission of the professor and students who are recorded. Students who do so are subject to discipline.

Walsh says the legal battle is all about transparency.

“I think that the arguments that we were putting forward are arguments that are in the best interest of public transparency, and anyone who believes that government has an obligation to be transparent would identify with our line of reasoning."

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