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State university must disclose housing requests to landlords

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State university must disclose housing requests to landlords 05/19/97 ILLINOIS--The names and addresses of freshman students who contacted Southern Illinois…

State university must disclose housing requests to landlords

05/19/97

ILLINOIS–The names and addresses of freshman students who contacted Southern Illinois University about housing must be disclosed to the building owner who requested the information under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, the state Supreme Court in Springfield ruled in early May.

Before 1993, the university supplied information about incoming freshmen to owners of approved housing to facilitate students’ housing choices. These owners then contacted the students directly with information about their buildings. The university also supplied the same information to local newspapers, religious organizations and others.

In 1993, the university stopped releasing the information to the building owners. However, the university continued to disclose the same information to several religious groups, state legislators, and a local newspaper.

In April 1993, building owner Stan Lieber filed a state Freedom of Information Act request for the student information. The university denied Lieber’s request, claiming that the Act did not require release of information to further a commercial enterprise, and that disclosure of student information was restricted by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Lieber challenged the denial in circuit court in Murphysboro. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the university, but in May 1996 an appellate court in Mt. Vernon reversed the ruling.

In affirming the appellate court’s decision, the high court unanimously held that a public body must comply with a request for information unless “one of the narrow statutory exemptions applies.” The court held that no exemption applied in this case, noting that the federal law the university relied on applies only to “confidential” or “private” personal information about students receiving educational services from public bodies.

The court also ruled that denying the information to building owners while providing the same information to other requesters amounts to preferential treatment that “is offensive to the purposes underlying the FOIA and intolerable as a matter of policy,” the high court held. (Lieber v. Southern Illinois University; Requester’s Counsel: Thomas Peters, Belleville)