Rights & Responsibilities
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (§ 2.2-3700 et. seq., Code of Virginia) guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth, representatives of newspapers and magazines with circulation in the Commonwealth, and representatives of radio and television stations broadcasting in or into the Commonwealth, access to public records held by public bodies, public officials, and public employees.
A public record is any writing or recording -- regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording, or any other format -- that is 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. All public records are presumed to be open, and may only be withheld if a specific, statutory exemption applies.
The policy of FOIA states that the purpose of FOIA is to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities. In furthering this policy, FOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and that any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly.
Your FOIA Rights as a Virginia citizen:
•You have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
•You have the right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.
•If you believe that your FOIA rights have been violated, you may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA.
Making a Request for records from James Madison University
•You may request records by U.S. Mail, fax, e-mail, in person, or over the phone. FOIA does not require that your request be in writing, nor do you need to specifically state that you are requesting records under FOIA.
From a practical perspective, it may be helpful to both you and the person receiving your request to put your request in writing. This allows you to create a record of your request. It also gives us a clear statement of what records you are requesting, so that there is no misunderstanding over a verbal request. However, we cannot refuse to respond to your FOIA request if you elect to not put it in writing.
•Your request must identify the records you are seeking with "reasonable specificity." This is a common-sense standard. It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records that you are requesting; instead, it requires that you be specific enough so that we can identify and locate the records that you are seeking.
•Your request must ask for records or documents. FOIA gives you a right to inspect or copy records; it does not apply to a situation where you are asking general questions about the work of the University.
•You may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by the University in the regular course of business.
For example, if you are requesting records maintained in an Excel database, you may elect to receive those records electronically, via e-mail or on a computer disk, or to receive a printed copy of those records, as long as the university maintains the records in that format.
•If we have questions about your request, please cooperate with staff's efforts to clarify the type of records that you are seeking, or to attempt to reach a reasonable agreement about a response to a large request. Making a FOIA request is not an adversarial process, but we may need to discuss your request with you to ensure that we understand what records you are seeking.
To request records from James Madison University, you may direct your request to the Legal Services Office. The office can be reached at MSC 7614, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA 22807; 540-568-5242 (office); 540-568-5142 (fax); or firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also contact the office with questions you have concerning requesting records from James Madison University. In addition, the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer any questions you may have about FOIA. The Council may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com, or by phone at (804) 225-3056 or [toll free] 1-866-448-4100.
James Madison University's Responsibilities in Responding to Your Request
The University must respond to your request within five working days of receiving it. "Day One" is considered the day after your request is received. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays.
The reason behind your request for public records from the University is irrelevant, and we cannot ask you why you want the records before we respond to your request. FOIA does, however, allow the University to ask you to provide your name and legal address.
FOIA requires that the University make one of the following responses to your request within the five-day time period:
- Provide you with the records that you have requested in their entirety.
- Withhold all of the records that you have requested, because all of the records are subject to specific statutory exemptions. If all of the records are being withheld, we must send you a response in writing. That writing must identify the volume and subject matter of the records being withheld, and state the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows us to withhold the records.
- Provide some of the records that you have requested, but withhold other records. We cannot withhold an entire record if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, we may redact the portion of the record that may be withheld, and must provide you with the remainder of the record. We must provide you with a written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld.
- Notify you that the requested records could not be found or do not exist. The law does not require the university to create a new record if the record does not already exist.
- Notify you that it is not practically possible to provide the requested records or to determine whether they are available within the five-work-day period. This will allow us seven additional working days to respond to your request, giving us a total of 12 working days to respond to your request.
If we feel that we cannot provide the records to you within 12 days without disrupting our other organizational responsibilities, we will notify you to determine if we can reach an agreement concerning whether your request can be modified or limited, if you will agree to an extension of time, or if we need to contact a court to petition for additional time to respond to your request.
You may have to pay for the records that you request from the University. FOIA allows us to charge for the actual costs of responding to FOIA requests. This would include items like staff time spent searching for the requested records, copying costs, or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. It cannot include general overhead costs.
If we estimate that it will cost more than $200 to respond to your request, we require you pay in full before proceeding with your request.
You may request that we estimate in advance the charges for supplying the records that you have requested. This will allow you to know about any costs upfront, or give you the opportunity to modify your request in an attempt to lower the estimated costs.
Commonly used Exemptions
The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure. The University commonly withholds records subject to the following exemptions:
- Personnel records (§ 2.2-3705.1 (1) of the Code of Virginia)
- Records subject to attorney-client privilege (§ 2.2-3705.1 (2)) or attorney work product (§ 2.2-3705.1 (3))
- Tests or examinations (§ 2.2-3705.1 (4))
- Records created for use in closed meetings of the Board of Visitors (§ 2.2-3705.1 (5))
- Vendor proprietary information (§ 2.2-3705.1 (6))
- Computer software created for the university (§ 2.2-3705.1 (7))
- Appraisals for real property (§ 2.2-3705.1 (8))
- Records concerning claims against the university (§ 2.2-3705.1 (9))
- Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to a contract being awarded (§ 2.2-3705.1 (12))
- Scholastic records containing information concerning identifiable individuals (§ 2.2-3705.4 (1))
- Admissions and employment letters and recommendations (§ 2.2-3705.4 (2))
- Research data (§ 2.2-3705.4 (4))
- Fundraising records (§ 2.2-3705.4 (7))
- Threat Assessment records (§ 2.2-3705.4 (8))
- Health records (§ 2.2-3705.5 (1))
- Working papers and correspondence of the President of the University (§ 2.2-3705.7 (2))
- Library records (§ 2.2-3705.7 (3))
- Criminal investigative files (§ 2.2-3706 (2)(a),(b),(e),(h),(j))