Responding to Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests for Records
University Policy Number 1117
Categorized: General Policies
Responsible Office: FOIA Compliance Officer
Related Law & Policy:
- Code of Virginia, Section 2.2-3700, et seq.
- Notification of Rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
- Policy 1102: Records Management
- Code of Virginia, Title 42.1, Chapter 7: Virginia Public Records Act
- Virginia Records Retention and Disposition Schedule, General Schedule No. 111: College and University Records
- The Library of Virginia’s Virginia Public Records Management Manual
This policy applies to all George Mason University faculty and staff, all departments, schools and activities, and student organizations supported wholly or principally by public funds. The Office of University Counsel must be contacted immediately when records are sought pursuant to a court order or subpoena.
II. POLICY STATEMENT
As an agency of the Commonwealth, George Mason University is subject to the requirements of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). All officers and employees of the University will fully comply with the law, recognizing that exclusions from disclosure under FOIA are to be narrowly construed.
The General Assembly has ensured ready access to public records and open government by enacting FOIA. In making the activities of their government available, they have carried forth George Mason’s charge in the Declaration of Rights that the good people of Virginia be “effectually secured against the danger of maladministration.”
Public records means all writings and recordings that consist of letters, words or numbers, or their equivalent, set down by handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostatting, photography, magnetic impulse, optical or magneto-optical form, mechanical or electronic recording or other form of data compilation, however stored, and regardless of physical form or characteristics, prepared or owned by, or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. Records that are not prepared for or used in the transaction of public business are not public records. Code of Virginia §2.2-3701.
Scholastic records means those records containing information directly related to a student or an applicant for admission and maintained by a public body that is an educational agency or institution or by a person acting for such agency or institution. Code of Virginia §2.2-3701.
Public body as used in the Code of Virginia under FOIA means George Mason University.
Upon receipt of a FOIA request:
The department, school or activity receiving the request should note the date and time which it was received. Unless the department has delegated authority, the request must be transmitted immediately to the FOIA Compliance Officer.
Routine Exclusions to FOIA Requests:
(1) Scholastic records containing information concerning identifiable individuals, except that access will not be denied to the person who is the subject thereof. Code of Virginia §2.2-3705.4 (A)(1).
(2) Confidential letters and statements of recommendation respecting admissions, application for employment, or receipt of an honor or honorary recognition. Code of Virginia §2.2-3705.4 (A)(2).
(3) Data, records or information of a propriety nature produced or collected by or for faculty or staff of George Mason University (other than the University’s financial or administrative records) in the conduct of or as a result of study or research on medical, scientific, technical or scholarly issues, where such data, records, or information has not been publicly released, published, copyrighted or patented. Code of Virginia §2.2-3705.4 (A)(4).
(4) Personnel records containing information concerning identifiable individuals, except that access will not be denied to the person who is the subject thereof. Code of Virginia §2.2-3705.1 (1).
(5) Any test or examination evaluating (i) a student’s performance (ii) an applicant or employee’s qualification for employment, retention or promotion or (iii) qualification for a license or certificate. Code of Virginia §2.2-3705.1 (4).
(6) Vendor proprietary information software. Code of Virginia §2.2-3705.1 (6).
(7) Computer software developed for George Mason University. Code of Virginia §2.2-3705.1 (7).
(8) Records relating to the negotiation and award of a specific contract where competition or bargaining is involved and where the release would adversely affect the bargaining position or negotiating strategy of George Mason University. This exclusion is only applicable until decision to award the contract is made. Code of Virginia §2.2-3705.1 (12).
(9) Working papers and correspondence of the President of George Mason University. Code of Virginia §2.2-3705.7 (2).
(10) Certain law enforcement records in the custody of the George Mason University Police Department. Code of Virginia §2.2-3706.
(11) Record requests from outside the Commonwealth unless made by the representative of a qualifying media organization. Code of Virginia §2.2-3704.A.
FOIA Compliance Officer: The FOIA Compliance Officer will respond to FOIA requests on behalf of George Mason University for all departments, schools and activities without delegated authority. The FOIA Compliance Officer also serves as the person designated to assist individuals making requests for records. Code of Virginia §2.2-3704.1.A.2
The FOIA Compliance Officer is:
Delegated Authority: The Chief of Staff may delegate certain departments, schools and activities the authority to respond directly to FOIA requests under such conditions as may be established.
Responsible Parties: All heads of departments, schools and activities in possession of or having access to requested records are responsible for assisting the FOIA Compliance Officer in making a timely and thorough response.
George Mason University employees, in their individual capacity, can be held civilly liable for knowing and willful violations of FOIA. First violations carry a civil penalty of not less than $500 nor more than $2,000. Second or subsequent violations carry a civil penalty of not less than $2,000 nor more than $5,000. Code of Virginia §2.2-3714.
VI. EFFECTIVE DATE AND APPROVAL
This policy is effective October 1, 2011. This policy will be reviewed and revised in accord with any changes made by the General Assembly to the Freedom of Information Act.
Maurice W. Scherrens
Senior Vice President
Peter N. Stearns
Date approved: September 11, 2006
Revised: September 30, 2011
Revised: December 14, 2015
Revised: June 2, 2020