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Milwaukee journalism group slams UWM after Madison complies with open records requests

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After UW-Madison released information about sexual harassment cases on campus within the last 20 years, Media Milwaukee — an online news site run through a journalism class — fired off a tweet calling out UW-Milwaukee administration about its slow response time to multiple open records requests Thursday.

Talis Shelbourne, a student journalist for Media Milwaukee, said the group sent out an initial open records request to the administration on Nov. 17, requesting sexual misconduct complaints against faculty and staff in 2014 and 2015. The group later expanded the request in December to include information dating back to 2013.

Shelbourne said Media Milwaukee still had not received a “formal response” from the university but received an email that said the university was “working on it.”

Michelle Johnson, UW-Milwaukee’s senior director of integrated marketing and communications, said the public records custodian provided Media Milwaukee with some of the requests.

In an article from late 2017, Media Milwaukee claimed that documents released by UWM provided the outcomes of the cases but did not provide any names or details that Media Milwaukee was looking for.

Media Milwaukee reported that little was known about the cases because “the university has yet to comply with an open records request seeking details.” The Media Milwaukee article was updated three weeks later when the university responded to a different request specifically about sexual assault/harassment charges that led to a monetary settlement:

“We have confirmed that the only sexual assault/harassment settlement from 2004 to present is the one (the UW) System reported,” the university responded. “It was in 2010 for $10,000. The respondent no longer works at UWM.”

UW-Milwaukee responded to at least one open records request, but there are still pending requests that have been out for up to five months, Shelbourne said.

Johnson said that UWM only has one records custodian, and she received 540 records request last year. Some of the requests require a “somewhat lengthy process of notice” to people named in the documents and allow them to object to release of the records.

Shelbourne said that there has been “no miscommunication” with UWM faculty for the records request and said Media Milwaukee offered to take documents that had redactions in them.

Shelbourne said though they understand it takes time for the records request, she hopes that UW-Madison releasing similar files about sexual misconduct against faculty and staff on April 9 will spur movement from UWM.

UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone did not compare the response times between UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee for open request records. Johnson added that there are “significant differences between campuses” that would make it difficult to easily compare the release of records requests. For example, UW-Madison’s public records custodian does not handle police records, while the UW-Milwaukee public records custodian does, including requests for body camera footage.

Media Milwaukee already has filed a court action against UWM for a document relating to a professor that the administration refused to provide because it contains attorney-client privilege information.

They also filed a complaint against the Milwaukee Police Department pending with the State’s Attorney General’s office for withholding a police report with a sexual assault allegation against a professor, Shelbourne said.

While Shelbourne is hoping that UW-Madison's response to the open records request encourages the administration at UWM, Media Milwaukee is ready to take action.

“We are planning on giving them some more time to fulfill the requests but will also exercise our rights under open records laws, if necessary,” Shelbourne said.

As for the tweet, Shelbourne said the group wanted to have a laugh about the situation.

“We made the meme because we found it pretty amusing, but it is indicative of the fact that we have been waiting for quite a while,” Shelbourne said. 

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