A set of science and academic advocacy groups say that in granting a freedom of information request to obtain full access to a climate researcher's documents, the University of Virginia is sending the message that it will not take measures to protect its researchers from harassment.
A conservative think tank called the American Tradition Institute sued the University of Virginia to obtain records from climate researchers, including Michael Mann, who worked there until 2005, when he moved to Penn State University, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. ATI promotes the idea the there is no proof that climate-change is man-made, via "research, investigative journalism, and litigation," according to its website. Four advocacy groups—the American Association of University Professors, the American Geophysical Union, Climate Science Watch, and the Union of Concerned Scientists—then sent a letter to the University's president, asking that the institution provide less information than was requested. Although under the state's open-records law, there are a number of documents, possibly the majority, that are likely to be considered exempt from the request, such as emails to students and working papers, which the advocacy groups argue the University should not share with ATI .
In the letter to the president the four groups write: "The University should seek to improve the agreement to better protect scientists from harassment and intimidation." Although the ATI would be under a gag order preventing it from disclosing any of the exempt documents, the four groups say they “are concerned that giving requesters this level of access sets an entirely new precedent and would create a chilling effect for current Virginia researchers."
According to The Chronicle, the University was still reviewing the letter and was not yet ready to comment.