Friday, June 21, 2024

This academic year, we filed hundreds of requests with Michigan State University’s Freedom of Information Act Office.

They ranged from the most standard of FOIAs — legal bills and emails between officials — to some more bizarre requests. Our favorites include the personnel documents that introduced MSU to the now-infamous “meth professor” and documents relating to an alleged system of secret underground bunkers beneath campus.

The university’s handling of our requests has been extremely frustrating. We’ve dealt with countless unjust denials and redactions that keep information of great importance out of the public eye.

We’ve overcome some of MSU’s attempts to avoid scrutiny with crafty administrative appeals and human sourcing. We’re working on others with an ongoing FOIA lawsuit against the university.

It’s a serious issue that keeps the public uninformed about the use of their tuition and tax dollars.

But sometimes, the redactions are quite funny — at least to FOIA nerds like us.

So, we’ve compiled the funniest FOIA redactions of this academic year.

Blackout poetry

Sometimes the FOIA office’s extravagant redactions made for artsy blackout poetry.


It really makes you think.


Wow. Sounds exhilarating.

Gripping debate about billboard

Other times, we asked for emails to see the internal discussions MSU’s leaders had about important issues.

For example, we wanted to see how MSU’s Board of Trustees landed on this metro-Detroit billboard erected in the wake of a campus shooting.


Other options included messages of support that did not directly mention the board.

Here’s their rigorous debate about the billboard, as presented by the FOIA office.

Trustee Brianna Scott said:

Support student media! Please consider donating to The State News and help fund the future of journalism.


Then trustee Sandy Pierce chimed in with:


But then trustee Dianne Byrum threw a total curve-ball with:


Then the board secretary told everyone: 


Rich discourse.

Redacted faces

The FOIA office obscures the identity of individuals pictured in records for privacy reasons. But sometimes they get a little overzealous.

To see for yourself, try to find the campus police officer in these mirror selfies (hint: behind the giant, black box).


Other times a redacted face creates a somewhat unsettling effect. Check out this parking attendant that made the mistake of upsetting MSU trustee Dennis Denno.


A meta memo

Finally, our favorite redaction of the year.

We asked for the memo MSU gave members of the presidential search committee, advising them on how to best avoid FOIA. 

How were they instructed to preserve the complete secrecy that temporarily shrouded the search? We’ll never know.


How meta.