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Seventh Circuit Orders Briefs in U. of Illinois FOIA Case

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on October 06, 2011 4:03 PM

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments last week in a freedom of information case involving a University of Illinois policy which afforded greater weight to admissions applications from well-connected students.

In case you haven't heard, the University of Illinois has been in a bit of a pickle over the last two years for unsound admissions practices. Now, the University wants the Seventh Circuit to protect it from releasing records that would reveal the extent of the scandal.

In 2009, Chicago Tribune ran a story detailing how the University had a special list tracking well-connected, but under-qualified applicants in a tit-for-tat scheme that yielded donations and favors for the school. To determine the scope of the favoritism, the Tribune filed a request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (Illinois FOIA) seeking the names of the students who received preferential treatment.

So how did the litigants find their way from an Illinois FOIA request into the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals?

The University claims that U.S. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act protects student privacy at federally-funded schools. A federal district judge, however, previously ruled that the Act does not bar the school from releasing the students' names.

Samuel Skinner, an attorney for the University, indicated that the University's primary concern is safeguarding applicants' privacy; otherwise University applicants will worry that their grade point averages, high school transcripts, and disciplinary records might become public.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has offered the litigants two weeks to prepare and file briefs in their Illinois FOIA dispute.

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