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CAUT Bulletin Archives

November 2015

Q&A Forum

V.M. from Toronto writes:

I’ve been contacted by the uni­versity’s lawyer about an access to information request. The university wants me to collect and hand over all my notes, emails, and voice messages about a course I taught last year. Am I obligated to comply?

David Robinson, CAUT executive director, answers:

Provincial access to information (or freedom of information) legislation requires that documents in a public institution’s “custody or control” must be provided if requested, subject to specific exemptions and limitations.

The customary practice in universities and colleges, arising from concerns about aca­demic freedom, is that most records created by academic staff are not in the custody and control of the institution, and there­fore not subject to access to information legislation.

Generally speaking, if the records are ones that are part of your normal teaching, research and community service, they are not in the university’s custody or control and the university has no right to require you to produce them.

The exception to this would be records you created or received in relation to an administrative role you performed for the university. Similarly, official correspondence between you and a university administrator would be considered in the university’s custody and control.

The longstanding practice of academic staff records being primarily in their custody and control has been an essential protection of academic freedom. It frees you from inappropriate administrative surveillance that is, unfortunately, normal in other employment settings where there is no academic freedom. The customary practice is undermined if, through misunderstanding or deliberate action, universities are able to use access requests to override your custody and control of your own records.

This is a complex issue but should any academic staff member be asked by their administration to turn over a record, my advice is always to decline until you have consulted with your academic staff association and CAUT.

Academic Advisor offers advice about your rights at work. To send in a question, write to Please include a daytime telephone number.