U. of I. officials used personal email to hide discussions – Chicago Tribune

University of Illinois senior administrators used personal email accounts to discuss sensitive and controversial issues, and then failed to disclose the records when they were requested by the public.

U. of I. released 1,100 pages of emails Friday on three hot-button issues, some of which would have been responsive to previous open records requests. The documents are related to Steven Salaita, the professor whose job offer was withdrawn last year; the hiring of felon James Kilgore; and the proposal to open a new engineering-based medical school on the Urbana-Champaign campus.

Many of the emails are from the personal account of U. of I. Chancellor Phyllis Wise, who abruptly resigned Thursday.

“A desire to maintain confidentiality on certain sensitive University-related topics was one reason personal email accounts were used to communicate about these topics,” according to a U. of I. news release. “Some emails suggested that individuals were encouraged to use personal email accounts for communicating on such topics.”

The employees’ use of personal email accounts to conduct university business raises questions about transparency and secrecy at the state’s flagship public institution. What’s more, U. of I. employees had been previously instructed that using private devices would not be a way to avoid public records laws and would be subject to disclosure, according to a 2012 employee newsletter from the university’s ethics office.

“If you are conducting University business (including teaching) through a personal email account (e.g., gmail, hotmail, yahoo), then the University-related communications are subject to (the Freedom of Information Act), regardless of whether they are generated on private equipment or in personal accounts,” the newsletter stated.

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