Public Information Requests

The Maryland Public Information Act (PIA), gives the public the right to review and obtain copies of disclosable public records, except to the extent the records are protected from release because they fall within a statutorily recognized exemption to the law. Disclosable public records are only those made or received by a unit of State government in connection with the transaction of public business. In addition, the PIA does not require UM to answer informational questions or to create a record to satisfy a request. Your correspondence to the University making a request is itself a public record and may be asked for by other requesters, along with the University’s response.


The PIA is found in the General Provisions Article, §§4-101 through 4-601, of the Annotated Code of Maryland, and accessible through the Maryland State Law Library at www.lawlib.state.md.us.

The Maryland Office of the Attorney General provides a Public Information Act Manual which contains the law itself, along with narrative descriptions of the manner in which the law applies to different types of requests. The Manual is available to the public on-line, and provides meaningful assistance to members of the public and records custodians. For the table of contents and access to the complete Manual, click here.


Information for University Units

1- If you receive a request for documents, do not respond to the request yourself. If someone would like to file a request, you may direct them to our portal.

2- Regardless of whether the request specifically cites Freedom of Information Act (FOIA, the federal equivalent) or Public Information Act (PIA), you should immediately forward the request to the UM Office of General Counsel.

3- UM has 10 business days to acknowledge a request and a limited amount of time to provide records after a request is received, so acting promptly is important.

4- Electronic mail messages and voice mail messages created during the transaction of public business are owned by the University and included in the definition of “public record.” This includes records created or housed on personal devices (mobile phones, tablets, email accounts, laptops etc.)

5- If you have questions or need advice, contact the Office of General Counsel.


Information for Requestors

1- To review or obtain copies of University of Maryland, College Park records, you must make a written request under Maryland’s Public Information Act (“PIA”).

2- Requests for information related to Undergraduate Admissions, Graduate Admissions or Transcripts should be directed to those particular offices.

3- Requests for the University of Maryland, College Park may be filed via U.S. Mail or through our portal. Sending your request to an individual University employee will delay its receipt and processing.

4- Public record requests for other schools within the University System of Maryland (USM) must be filed directly with that institution. For example, a request for the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) cannot be filed with the College Park campus.

5- When filing a request, be specific with respect to time frames, contents, and keywords. Inquiries should contain a targeted description of the record to enable the University to locate the requested record. Be simple, straightforward and precise.

6- Requests which ask for “any and all” records without any other limiters typically result in vague and overbroad requests. In addition, processing such requests incurs high costs for the requester.

7- Disclosable public records are only those made or received by a unit of State government in connection with the transaction of public business.

8- Requests may be submitted at any time. However, requests can only be received when the University is open for business. The date of receipt is the date used for processing the inquiry.

9- Upon receipt, the University will perform a preliminary assessment of your request to determine if the University is the appropriate custodian of the records. The University will also review the request for completeness.

10- If the request is unclear or unreasonably broad, the University may request that the filer clarify or narrow the request.

11- Requests are then placed in a queue of other public records requests. Other offices across campus which may have the records sought are notified about the request. This begins the process of identifying, collecting and reviewing potentially responsive materials to a filer. In certain cases, third parties with an interest may be consulted to process the inquiry.

12- The PIA is not an automatic disclosure process; requests may be denied. There are circumstances when requests for public information may be denied because there is information which is not lawfully available to the public. This may include, for example, personnel records, student education records; records concerning on-going research; classified information; and information considered confidential commercial/financial information.

13- The University may reject requests for student directory information (i.e. name, address, email address, phone number) when sought for a commercial purpose.

14- In the procurement context, requests for the following will be denied: line-item pricing, unit price information, a successful bidder’s customer list, evaluation forms and/or score sheets and biographical data on key employees.

15- In the research context, specific details of on-going research projects will not be disclosed.

16- The General Provisions Article, §4-330 provides, “If the official custodian has adopted rules or regulations that define sociological information . . . a custodian shall deny inspection of the part of a public record which contains sociological information . . .” Thus, University’s Rules on Public Records Containing Sociological Information are intended to define the conditions under which Sociological Information shall be excluded from inspection and disclosure as part of a public record under Maryland’s Public Information Act.

17- Your correspondence to the University making a request may itself a public record and can be requested by other filers, along with the University’s response.

18- The University will respond as efficiently as possible based on factors including the availability of records, the complexity of the request, the volume of materials involved, the number of requests in the queue, and the time required to review the materials for possible redactions to protect the privacy rights of students or employees or other information deemed confidential under federal or state law.

19- Our ultimate goal is to be responsive to each and every of the almost 500 requests received annually.


Search & Preparation Fees

1- Pursuant to Section 4-206, to the University may recover its costs for the actual time expended for the search, preparation, legal review and reproduction of records, to the fullest extent permitted by law. However, UM may not charge a fee for the first 2 hours that are needed to search for a public record and prepare it for inspection. Consequently, we encourage filers to be explicit and precise when drafting their requests.

2- To offer the most efficient customer service, the University requires payment for any estimated amount due before the work is performed. The search, preparation and copying process will begin upon receipt of the total estimated fee. If the actual fee differs from the estimate, the fee will be adjusted accordingly, and you will receive an additional bill or refund as appropriate.

3- Requesters will be notified in advance of any fees to be assessed prior to execution. The requester will then have an opportunity to revise or narrow the scope of a request to avoid or reduce actual costs.

4- Please make your money order or check payable to the "University of Maryland" and send it to the Office of General Counsel. You may also hand-deliver this payment. The University does not accept cash through the mail, credit cards, or PayPal.

5- If the University does not receive your payment within fifteen (15) calendar days from the date of our reply, it will presume that you are no longer interested in pursuing your request and close the file accordingly. To obtain the documents, you must submit a new request.

6- If a filer feels that the University has imposed an unreasonable fee (more than $350) to produce the responsive documents, the filer may seek assistance from the State Public Information Act Compliance Board (GP Section 4-1A-01 et seq.).


Remedies

1- Comments or questions for the University may be directed to: PublicInformationAct@umd.edu

2- Filers who disagree with any response to a PIA request, may seek review of the decision in accordance with Section 4-362 of the PIA. In addition, they may seek assistance from the Public Access Ombudsperson under GP Section 4-1B-01 et seq.

3- If a filer feels that the University has imposed an unreasonable fee (more than $350) to produce the responsive documents, the filer may seek assistance from the State Public Information Act Compliance Board (GP Section 4-1A-01 et seq.).


Freedom of Information Act

Occasionally an individual or entity will submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to a Federal Government agency, and the request will include copies of proposals submitted to funding agencies. If a Federal agency contacts you directly with a FOIA request, please immediately forward the request to the Office of Research Administration. Federal agencies often must operate on a 5-day turn-around for FOIA requests, so it is imperative that ORA and OGC work with you to protect from disclosure (1) any information that may give rise to patentable technology, or (2) information not currently known to others in the researcher’s field that if disclosed, could damage the researcher’s chances of publishing finding as an original and innovative contribution to the field. If you believe that portions of the documents should be withheld, provide your ORA Contract Administrator with the appropriate sections and/or page numbers and the rationale for withholding the information. ORA will work with OGC to prepare a letter requesting that the agency withhold this information from disclosure.


Ownership of Emails and Other Records

Maryland's Public Information Act (PIA), Md. Code Ann., General Provisions Article (“GP”) §§ 4- 101 through 4-601, grants a broad right of access to public records while protecting legitimate governmental interests and the privacy rights of individual citizens. As a result, a person can request access to University records and, unless the records fall within a list of exceptions to PIA, the University is required to disclose records that match the request. For instance, a requestor might request a copy of the University’s construction contract for new building or budget information. A requestor may ask for state employee email communications. UMD’s computing and digital information resources are the property of the State of Maryland and, as a result, are subject to the PIA. A requestor can even ask for a list of employees' salaries. However, a requestor cannot ask for a copy of an employee's personnel file or a list of employees' social security numbers and home addresses.


Public Information Contact

Name: Ms. L. Wright
Address: Office of General Counsel,
University of Maryland, College Park
2117 Seneca Bldg.,
College Park, MD 20742

Phone: 301-405-4945
Email: PublicInformationAct@umd.edu
To e-File: www.umd.edu/pia

Website Disclaimer


This website is provided as a resource for learning basic legal competencies on a variety of topics that affect the university.

Disclaimer Notice: These materials are presented here for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice on a particular matter. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific facts and circumstances relating to an issue. For legal advice on a particular university matter within your official responsibilities, please consult with a member of the Office of General Counsel.