Legal Topics Toggle navigation
The Office of General Counsel provides information on the Wisconsin Public Records Law, requesting and responding to records requests, and the internal management of public records. For more information, click on the relevant menu item on the left and see the latest edition of the Wisconsin Department of Justice Compliance Guide for the Wisconsin Public Records Law and other resources.
Requesting Public Records
University of Wisconsin System Legal Records Custodians
Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 19.33(4), record keeping authorities must designate a records custodian who is to respond to requests for public records. Members of the public may obtain information and access to or copies of UW System records by making a request of the Records Custodian. The designated records custodians for UW System are:
|Institution||Records Custodian||Email Address|
|Board of Regents||Jane Radueemail@example.com|
|UW Colleges||Steve Wildeckfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|UW-Eau Claire||Teresa O’Halloranemail@example.com|
|UW-Green Bay||Chris Paquetfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|UW-La Crosse||Michael Gasperemail@example.com|
|UW-River Falls||Elizabeth Fruehfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|UW-Stevens Point||Kathryn Joreemail@example.com|
|UW System Administration||Alex Hummelfirstname.lastname@example.org|
University of Wisconsin System Administration: Public Records Notice
Wis. Stat. § 19.34(2) Public Records Notice
The University of Wisconsin System Administration is created and exists pursuant to Chapter 36 of the Wisconsin Statutes. The University of Wisconsin System Administration is governed by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin and is directed by the President of the University of Wisconsin System. See Wis. Stat. § 36.09(2). The University of Wisconsin System Administration assists the Board and the President in establishing and implementing policies related to educational programs, financial, and physical-plant development of the University of Wisconsin System.
The University of Wisconsin System Administration has designated a Custodian of Public Records to meet its obligations under Wisconsin public records laws. Members of the public may obtain information and access to or copies of public records by making a request of the Records Custodian during regular office hours of Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.:
Mr. Alex Hummel
Associate Vice President for Communications
University of Wisconsin System Administration
1746 Van Hise Hall
1220 Linden Dr.
Madison, WI 53706
Primary email address: email@example.com
The University of Wisconsin System Administration may bill requesters $.25 for each copy made, but will not charge reproduction costs for electronic copies of records that exist in electronic format. A location fee may be charged if the cost to locate the record(s) in question is $50.00 or more. Location fees will be calculated at the hourly salary and benefit rate for the lowest-paid employee capable of performing the task. No fee will be charged for the cost of reviewing records for possible redaction or removal of confidential information. Requests which exceed a total cost of $5.00 may require prepayment. All requests will be processed as soon as practicable and without delay.
Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System: Public Records Notice
Wis. Stat. § 19.34(2) Public Records Notice
The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System is created by Wis. Stat. § 15.91, and vested with primary responsibility for governance of the University of Wisconsin System pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 36.09.
The Board of Regents has designated a Custodian of Public Records in order to meet its obligations under Wisconsin public records laws. Members of the public may obtain information and access to or copies of the Board’s public records by making a request of the Records Custodian during regular office hours of Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.:
Ms. Jane Radue
Secretary of the Board of Regents
1860 Van Hise Hall
1220 Linden Dr.
Madison, WI 53706
Primary email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Board of Regents may bill requesters $.25 for each copy made, but will not charge reproduction costs for electronic copies of records that exist in electronic format. A location fee may be charged if the cost to locate the record(s) in question is $50.00 or more. Location fees will be calculated at the hourly salary and benefit rate for the lowest-paid employee capable of performing the task. No fee will be charged for the cost of reviewing records for possible redaction or removal of confidential information. Requests which exceed a total cost of $5.00 may require prepayment. All requests will be processed as soon as practicable and without delay.
Responding to Requests
Responding to Public Records Requests
Q. How long do I have to respond to a request?
A. Although no time limit exists for responding to a request, you must respond to a request "as soon as practicable and without delay" (Wis. Stat. § 19.35 (4)). The Department of Justice suggests ten working days as a reasonable response time for simple, straightforward requests. If it is not possible to respond within that time, it is appropriate to acknowledge the request and explain that a response will be provided as soon as possible. You must, however, respond to an employee's request to inspect his or her personnel records within seven working days after the employee makes a written request. Wis. Stat. § 103.13 (2).
Q. Do I need to respond to an oral request or to an anonymous request?
A. Yes, you must respond to all requests, oral or written. The requester is not required to identify himself or herself or state the reasons for the request. Wis. Stat. §19.35 (1) (i). Also, you may require an employee who requests to inspect his or her personnel records to make the request in writing. Wis. Stat. §103.13 (2).
Q. How specific does a request need to be?
A. The request needs to be reasonably specific as to the subject matter and time period involved. Wis. Stat. § 19.35 (1) (h).
Q. Do I need to deny a request in writing?
A. The General Counsel recommends that all public records denials be made in writing unless the requester has refused to provide an address. A denial must include a statement of the specific reasons for denial, and a notice of the requester’s appeal rights. Wis. Stat. § 19.35 (4) (b).
Q. What if a person requests a video tape or audio tape recording?
A. Unless the video tape or audio tape recording contains information that is exempt from disclosure, you must provide the requester with a copy of the tape recording that is substantially as good as the original. Wis. Stat. § 19.35 (1) (c) and (d). Recordings should be edited to delete information that should not be disclosed if reasonable, and technically feasible.
Q. What if the requested record is not readily comprehensible or cannot be copied?
A. If the record is not readily comprehensible, you must provide the requester with a written, comprehensible copy of the information contained in the record. Wis. Stat. § 19.35 (1) (e). If the record cannot be copied, you must permit the requester to photograph the record. Wis. Stat. § 19.35 (1) (f).
Q. What kind of facilities do I need to provide a person who is authorized to copy and inspect a record?
A. You must provide the person with facilities comparable to those used by the employees of your institution. You must also allow the inspection and copying to take place during your regular business hours. Wis. Stat. § 19.35 (2).
Q. What kind of fees may I charge for locating or copying records?
A. You may impose a fee for locating the record, not exceeding the actual, necessary and direct cost of the location process, only if the location cost is $50 or more. You may also impose fees for reproduction, transcription, photographing, mailing and shipping, as long as those fees do not exceed the actual, necessary and direct cost for those activities. Finally, you may require prepayment by the requester if the total amount of fees exceeds $5. Wis. Stat. § 19.35 (3). No fees may be charged for redaction time or legal review.
Q. What if a person requests a record that contains some information that is subject to disclosure and some that is not?
A. You must provide the information that is subject to disclosure and delete (redact) from the copy provided to the requester any information that is not subject to disclosure. Wis. Stat. § 19.36 (6).
Q. May a person challenge the accuracy of a record?
A. Yes, if the record contains personally identifiable information about the requester and the requester notifies you in writing of the challenge. If you concur with the challenge, you must correct the information; if you deny the challenge, you must notify the person who has challenged the record (or his or her representative) of the reasons for the denial and allow the person to file a concise statement that sets forth the reasons for the requester's disagreement with the disputed portion of the record. Wis. Stat. § 19.365 (1). If an employee disagrees with any information contained in his or her personnel records and you cannot agree on the information, you must permit the employee to submit a written statement explaining the employee's position and you must attach this statement to the disputed portion of the personnel record. Wis. Stat. § 103.13 (4).
Q. Is my email a public record?
A. Yes. Email that is not purely personal is a public record. Wisconsin’s public records law does not consider the format for a record, but rather its substantive content. “Record means any material…regardless of physical form or characteristics, which has been created or is being kept by an authority.” Wis. Stat. § 19.35 (2). Thus, a state employee’s email messages are public records, except for those emails that fall within an exception to the definition of public record.
Q. Is everything created or received by a state employee a public record?
A. No. Wisconsin’s public records law expansively defines the term record. “Record means any material on which written, drawn, printed, spoken, visual or electromagnetic information is recorded or preserved, regardless of physical form or characteristics, which has been created or is being kept by an authority.” Wis. Stat. § 19.35 (2).
However, there are exceptions to this definition. “Record does not include drafts, notes, preliminary computations and like materials prepared for the originator’s personal use or prepared by the originator in the name of a person for whom the originator is working; materials which are purely the personal property of the custodian and have no relation to his or her office; materials to which access is limited by copyright, patent or bequest; and published materials in the possession of an authority other than a public library which are available for sale, or which are available for inspection at a public library.” Id.
Q. What should I do if I receive a record request in a matter where I feel litigation is likely to occur or where litigation has already been filed?
A. Contact the Office of General Counsel or Campus Legal Counsel.
Wisconsin Public Records Law (WPRL) (Wis. Stats. §§ 19.31-19.39) embodies the principle that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding government affairs and the official acts of government officers. Consistent with this principle, WPRL creates a strong legal presumption in favor of complete public access to public records.
Scope of the Law
WPRL generally requires public offices and officials, including University of Wisconsin System institutions, to permit inspection and copying of public records and to adopt and post guidelines about how the public may inspect and copy these records. Wis. Stats. §§ 19.32 (2) and 19.34 (1). Each institution is required to designate a legal records custodian to process record requests.
The term “records” is broadly defined to include almost all information existing in physical form maintained by a public institution, including UW System institutions. The definition of records includes electronic records such as email. Excluded from the definition of records are notes, drafts, preliminary computations, and similar items prepared for personal use. Also excluded are personal property having no relation to the owner’s public office; material to which access is limited by copyright, patent or bequest; and published material available for sale or at the public library. Wis. Stat. § 19.32 (2). In addition, WPRL does not require the custodian to create new records to respond to a request, nor does it require custodians to answer questions. Wis. Stat. § 19.35 (1)(L).
Responding to a Record Request
When responding to a request for a record, the institution’s legal records custodian should consider whether the material requested is a record, as defined in the statute, and if such a record exists. If the custodian determines that the material requested is an existing record, it should be presumed to be accessible.
The custodian should next consider whether the law specifically requires disclosure of the record, or whether an exception to disclosure applies. The following are among the common exceptions to disclosure allowed by law:
- The record is a trade secret. Wis. Stat. § 19.36 (5) (e.g., a confidential customer list).
- The record is exempted from disclosure by federal or state laws. Wis. Stat. § 19.36 (1) (e.g., FERPA-protected education records).
- The record is protected from disclosure by common law limitations. Wis. Stat. § 19.35 (e.g., the attorney-client privilege).
- The public interest in nondisclosure of the record outweighs the public interest in disclosure (“the balancing test”). In applying this balancing test, the custodian may consider the public policy exceptions to Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law, Wis. Stat. § 19.85, and deny the request if one of those exceptions outweighs the public’s interest in disclosure. If the custodian decides that a record should be released but for the fact that it contains some non-disclosable information, the custodian must delete (redact) the non-disclosable portions of the record.
If the custodian believes that a request should be denied for these or other reasons, he or she should consult with the Office of General Counsel or Campus Legal Counsel.
Time for Responding to a Request
Responses to record requests must be given as soon as practicable and without delay. The Department of Justice suggests that a response be made within ten working days. If it is not possible to respond within that time, it is appropriate to acknowledge the request and explain that a response will be provided as soon as possible.
Form of Request
Record requests must be reasonably specific as to the subject matter and time period involved in the request.
Requests need not be written. The requester need not identify himself or herself, nor provide a reason for making the request.
Fees may be charged for the actual, direct costs of copying records, and in some instances for costs associated with retrieval of the records if that amount exceeds $50.00.
Form of Response
Written responses are required if the request is in writing, if the oral requester asks for a response in writing, or if a request is denied. Any denial must include specific reasons for the denial citing to the statutes and must inform the requester of his or her right to seek review of the denial from the district attorney, the attorney general or the courts.
Records may be produced in digital format unless the requester objects, and must be produced digitally at the requester’s choice if the information is held primarily in a digital format.
Penalties for Violating WPRL
A court may award damages of not less than $100 and fees, including attorney’s fees, to a requester who successfully challenges a denial of a request. Wis. Stat. § 19.37 (2). In addition, if the court finds that the institution or custodian arbitrarily or capriciously denied or delayed a response to a request or charged excessive fees, the court may require either the institution or the custodian to pay the requester punitive damages or to forfeit not more than $1,000. Wis. Stat. § 19.37 (3) and (4).
- Personnel records. The WPRL does not exempt the personnel records of state employees from disclosure to other persons requesting those records. However, certain employee personnel records may not be released including:
- Home address, home email address, home telephone number, or social security number, unless the employee has authorized access to the information;
- Information relating to the current investigation of a possible criminal offense or employment misconduct prior to disposition of the investigation;
- Employment examination (except, perhaps, the score);
- Certain information used by the employer for purposes of staff management planning, such as performance evaluations, judgments, recommendations concerning future salary adjustments or other wage treatments, management bonus plans, promotions, job assignments, letters of reference, or other comments or ratings of employees.
As to other employment records, the custodian must weigh the public’s interest in disclosure against the public’s interest in nondisclosure, including the public’s (as opposed to the individual’s) interest in the record subject’s privacy and reputation. Employees holding high-level positions or those with substantial public trust may be subject to different considerations, and, for example, may not be entitled to privacy in their performance evaluations. Custodians should consult with the Office of General Counsel or Campus Legal Counsel when such requests are received.
If the custodian determines that a requester is entitled to the release of the personnel records of another person, the custodian must notify the person who is the subject of the records to give that person an opportunity to contest the release of the records in court.
Custodians should also be aware that employees and former employees are permitted to inspect their own medical and personnel records. Wis. Stat. §103.13 (2). Further, under WPRL, a person or that person’s authorized representative has the general right to inspect other records that contain personally identifiable information pertaining to that person.
- Student records. The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) governs access to student records maintained by the University of Wisconsin System. Please consult the FERPA section of the Deskbook for specific guidance on managing student records.
- Electronic records. Although a computer program is not subject to inspection or copying under WPRL, the data used as input for the computer program and the reports produced from the computer program are subject to disclosure, Wis. Stat. § 19.36 (4), as are email and other data stored electronically. Because of the complex issues involving inspection, preservation and redaction of electronic records, the custodian should address any questions or concerns to the Office of General Counsel or Campus Legal Counsel.
- Law enforcement records. Other than records disclosing the identity of confidential informants, campus law enforcement records are considered public records. However, serious considerations of public safety, compromise of pending investigations, or relation with other laws, should be considered under the balancing test and may weigh in favor of confidentiality. Consultation with legal counsel is highly recommended in this area.
- Identity of applicants for public positions. Applicants for public positions have the right to have their identities protected from disclosure. This right does not apply to an applicant whose name is certified for appointment to a position in the state classified service or to the top 5 ranked candidates for a state unclassified position. Wis. Stat. §19.36 (7).
- Retention of records that have been the subject of a request. Records subject to a pending public records request must be retained as set forth in Wis. Stat. § 19.35 (5).
Internal Public Records Management
The Office of General Counsel sponsors and supervises the University of Wisconsin Records Officers Council, which maintains the resources contained within this website. The purpose of these resources is to facilitate the transaction of business, ensure public accountability, and preserve the history of UW System institutions by fulfilling state and federal legal requirements for public records management.
Public Records Management Policy - The Public Records Management Policy for the University of Wisconsin applies to all UW System institutions and was approved by the Board of Regents in April 2007. The policy sets forth public records management roles and responsibilities in order to ensure that UW System institutions fulfill relevant state and federal legal requirements.
- UW institutions
- UW System-wide
Legal Records Custodians - List of legal records custodians at each UW institution responsible for responding to requests for public records
Records Officer Council - Comprehensive list of UW System records officers, contact information, and meeting dates