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University faces lawsuit

A Bay Area newspaper is suing USF’s Board of Trustees and its spokesman for failing to turn over public records concerning a tutoring program for student athletes, according to court documents filed Tuesday.

The Tampa Tribune claims one of its reporters requested the names and contact information of student tutors paid to work at the Athletic Department’s Academic Enrichment Center since 2003, but that the University and spokesman Ken Gullette released an inaccurate list of names.

Although USF did turn over a list of tutors, the format of which implied that the list was complete, to higher education reporter Adam Emerson. Tribune staffers who were in the Athletic center on an earlier date saw a list of tutors posted that was different from the list furnished by the University, according to the filing.

The staffers even took pictures of the posted lists, which were described as “entirely different” than those provided by USF. When the Tribune confronted the University, administrators said they could not release tutors’ contact information, which USF treated as confidential and withheld for privacy reasons.

Susan Bunch, who is representing the Tribune in the case, thinks the University’s actions were illegal because the names and contact information of tutors are posted publicly.

“They did not respond to our public record request in a timely manner, they did not produce all of the requested records and they did not have a valid exemption for withholding some of the records,” she said.

“They can’t have it both ways – they can’t allow this information to be posted on bulletin boards in the Athletic Center and then claim it’s confidential information.”

In an e-mail to Emerson, USF Associate General Counsel Colin C. Mailloux wrote: “We won’t be able to release the names of tutors whose primary relationship with the University was that of a student … In addition, we will need a reasonable amount of time to contact the other tutors to remind them of their FERPA obligations if/when you contact them,” in response to his public records request.

Emerson also asked for a budget of the Academic Enrichment Center for each fiscal year since 2003, and a breakdown of where the money funding the center was spent and where it came from.

Gullette declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying he had yet to speak with the University or its attorneys about the issue.

The lawsuit also alleges that the University took too long to produce a list of students, and that it was wrong in trying to contact the tutors who were on the list.

In addition to the documents, the Tribune is seeking compensation from the University for attorney fees and other legal costs associated with the lawsuit.