The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has turned down a television station’s open records request by claiming that it is a law enforcement agency.
UNC Chapel Hill officials made their declaration that the taxpayer-funded, 29,000-student school is actually a very large crime-fighting force after Charlotte CBS affiliate WBTV requested public records from Jeffrey B. Welty, an associate professor within the UNC School of Government.
“I need to run this by our public records point person,” Welty initially told WBTV in a mid-May response to the records request. “I am not aware of any basis for doing anything other than providing any responsive documents that I may have, but we have a process for such things that I need to follow.”
Several days later, however, the UNC Chapel Hill public records office decided to deny the CBS affiliate’s records request.
To justify the denial, the UNC Chapel Hill records office cited a proviso in the North Carolina Public Records Act which exempts state law enforcement agencies from open records requests.
The state law — § 132-1.4 — sets forth circumstances when law enforcement officials can reject public records requests.
“Records of criminal investigations conducted by public law enforcement agencies, records of criminal intelligence information compiled by public law enforcement agencies and records of investigations conducted by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission are not public records,” the law reads. Only competent courts may release such records.
The law specifically defines the term “public law enforcement agencies” as “a municipal police department, a county police department, a sheriff’s department” or any other public unit “responsible for investigating, preventing, or solving violations of the law.”
There is no mention of “university,” “college,” “school” or “education” in the law. “Professor” also does not appear.
Nevertheless, UNC Chapel Hill is relying on the text of this state law to withhold public records from WBTV.
“Under North Carolina General Statute 132-1.4 certain law enforcement records are not public records as defined by NCGS 132-1,” the school’s public records office curtly told the station.
Jonathan Jones, a lawyer and the director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition, suggested that UNC Chapel Hill’s reliance on the exception for public law enforcement agencies is legally absurd.
“The UNC School of Government is not a law enforcement agency and they’re not subject to the exemption in the public records law,” Jones told WBTV.
“I don’t think Jeff Welty is a sworn law enforcement officer. He’s a great guy but he’s not investigating a crime,” Jones also said.
A UNC Chapel Hill spokeswoman refused to explain how the School of Government at the taxpayer-funded school fights crime.
“Carolina takes our responsibility to adhere to the North Carolina public records law very seriously,” the spokeswoman told the station. “North Carolina public records law is clear that criminal investigation records are exempt from the law.”
WBTV does not say what documents it requested from Welty.
UNC Chapel Hill is famous, of course, because the taxpayer-funded school published — and then hastily deleted — a document entitled “Career corner: Understanding microaggressions” which identified golf outings, Christmas vacations, the word “boyfriend” and any interruption of a woman who is speaking as menacing “microaggressions.” (RELATED: University Of North Carolina: CHRISTMAS VACATION Is A ‘Microaggression’ Now)
The public school is also famous because it perpetuated a sickening scam involving 18 years of rampant academic fraud. The shocking con allowed dozens of athletes to deliberately enroll in fake classes for which they were awarded passing grades to keep them eligible for UNC’s sports teams. (RELATED: University Of North Carolina Vows: No More Fake Classes For Jocks)