There is no explicit definition of academic freedom or exemption in either Wisconsin or Federal FOIA, and so the claim that academic freedom is protected rests on an interpretation of the statute.
In the UVa case, a letter from 15 organisations, including the AAUP, have urged UVa to apply the same interpretation to the Virginia statute.
The basis for an effective 'academic freedom' exemption, is given by the U. Wisconsin counsel:
5) Intellectual communications among scholars. Faculty members like Professor Cronon often use e-mail to develop and share their thoughts with one another. The confidentiality of such discussions is vital to scholarship and to the mission of this university. Faculty members must be afforded privacy in these exchanges in order to pursue knowledge and develop lines of argument without fear of reprisal for controversial findings and without the premature disclosure of those ideas. The consequence for our state of making such communications public will be the loss of the most talented and creative faculty who will choose to leave for universities that can guarantee them the privacy and confidentiality that is necessary in academia. For these reasons, we have concluded that the public interest in intellectual communications among scholars as reflected in Professor Cronon’s e-mails is outweighed by other public interests favoring protection of such communications.
This references a balance between differing public interests, and like many 'balance' arguments, is potentially open to judicial review.
Unsurprisingly, ATI feels strongly that the balance should be in favor of disclosure, and may well sue to get a review of the eventual UVa redactions (as CEI has done in the NASA case).
In Virginia law, the relevant passage for similar exclusions would be:
Data, records or information of a proprietary nature produced or collected by or for faculty or staff of public institutions of higher education, other than the institutions' financial or administrative records, in the conduct of or as a result of study or research on medical, scientific, technical or scholarly issues, whether sponsored by the institution alone or in conjunction with a governmental body or a private concern, where such data, records or information has not been publicly released, published, copyrighted or patented.
Update: UVa has responded to the letter with a declaration that UVa will use "all available exemptions" consistent with following the letter of the law.
Issues: academic freedom