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National Council on Teacher Quality to continue syllabus lawsuit against UM System

Tuesday, August 26, 2014 | 8:47 p.m. CDT; updated 9:49 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 26, 2014

COLUMBIA — The president of the National Council on Teacher Quality said Tuesday that her organization will continue to appeal court rulings that say the University of Missouri System does not have to disclose teacher syllabuses under the state's Sunshine Law.

A ruling from the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District filed Tuesday states that professors teaching courses in the University of Missouri System are not required to release their syllabuses to the Washington, D.C.-based education advocacy group under Missouri's Sunshine Law.

"We just got this decision and are weighing our options but will aggressively pursue all options before us, as we remain convinced that the merits of the case are on our side," said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

The council had made an open records request for course syllabuses in October 2011 for a nationwide survey on teacher preparation programs.

After surveying faculty members, the university denied the council's request in July 2012, saying that syllabuses are the intellectual property of the faculty who created them. The state Sunshine Law, which dictates which government records and meetings are public, exempts intellectual property from disclosure rules.

The National Council on Teacher Quality initially sued the UM System in Boone County Circuit Court in July 2012 after the organization could not reach an agreement with the system on the release of course syllabuses. Circuit Judge Kevin Crane ruled in July 2013 that the university would not have to release the syllabuses.

In a decision written by Judge Lisa White Hardwick, the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District affirmed a lower court ruling exempting course syllabuses as protected intellectual property. The court left open the possibility of future appeals in federal court, stating that as a state appeals court, it could not rule on the organization's claim that its use of copyright-protected syllabuses constitutes fair use under the Federal Copyright Act.

The National Council on Teacher Quality works with U.S. News and World Report, which republishes the council's surveys on education, Walsh said.

The organization has used the court system to get information for surveys in the past.

"In the courts in Minnesota, we had the exact same case, and we won both in the district and appeals level," Walsh said.

Although UM System spokesman John Fougere said it was too early to comment on any future appeals, he said system President Tim Wolfe's office was pleased with Tuesday's ruling.

"In responding to the NCTQ's request for course syllabi, we felt it was important to respect the rights of the faculty members who created the syllabi," Fougere said. "We are glad that both courts to review this matter have concluded that we have acted lawfully."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.


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