|This is my personal story of requesting public records at UCLA, a University that did not want to comply with the Freedom of Information Act. When I submitted an opinion piece for the UCLA paper to publicize this, they called me back immediately and said they would publish my article the following day. Several hours later I was informed that my article was damaging and could not be printed without addressing the University's point of view. This is not the standard response to controversial opinion pieces and appeared to be another attempt to shield the public from information that might cause people to question what goes on behind closed doors. Animal experimentation is a trillion dollar industry that survives only because people do not question it. I hope that by documenting my story, more people will consider why it is so difficult to get accurate information regarding animal research from the institutions sponsoring the experiments.
On October 15, 2001, nine members of UCLA Students for Animal Liberation requested public records pertaining to the nine UCLA researchers who use non-human primates in their experiments. We were pleased to receive confirmation of our requests postmarked October 23.
On November 14, 2001, the records were ready. We received a letter informing us that the Information Practices Office had gathered 1,488 pages of documentation on seven of the researchers. We were informed that copies of these records would cost $148.80, at ten cents a page. When I arrived with my check, Ms. Linda Arquieta of the Information Practices Office awkwardly said that the documents were actually not ready; she would contact me as soon as they were.
I became impatient as winter break drew to a close. I called Ms. Arquieta on December 3 to ask her what was taking so long. She said that she would make her best effort to get me the records by the end of the following week. When I called her a week later, she apologized for the wait and promised me the documents by the first week of January 2002. I was confused; the letter I received in November clearly indicated that the records were ready. Ms. Arquieta claimed that the researchers were concerned that I would "steal their research ideas," so they chose to review each page, being very careful about which ones to give out.
The first week of January came and went, and still I did not receive any documents. Ms. Arquieta insisted that the Information Practices Office was very busy, and they would fulfill my request when they had time. It had already been three months.
In mid-February, Ms. Arquieta explained that "the lawyers" were currently going through the requested documents, and they would be done soon. She said that it was not her fault that the documents were taking so long and complained that it was not right to target my dissatisfaction towards her. I said that a great way to alleviate these feelings would be to provide me with the lawyers' phone numbers. If they were the ones taking so long, they were the ones who deserved my complaints. Ms. Arquieta refused to give me their numbers but promised she would give them mine. She also promised that they would call me within the next few days.
It was not much of a shock when the lawyers did not call in the next few days, or ever for that matter.
On March 15, I wrote a letter to UCLA Chancellor, Albert Carnesale. I defined the Freedom of Information Act and explained that UCLA was violating the law by refusing to provide public records. I urged the Chancellor to contact Ms. Arquieta and ask her to adhere to the law. I immediately received a letter from Arquieta's supervisor at the Information Practices Office promising me the records by the first week of April.
The first week of April passed, and still no records. On April 17, I applied for a meeting with Chancellor Carnesale. My request was denied.
On April 25, during World Week for Animals in Laboratories, fifty activists attempted to gain entry into the Chancellor's office. When his secretary locked the glass doors, the activists piled up in the hallway. Activists on two megaphones explained that UCLA was refusing to hand over public records regarding current experiments on primates. Activists then began chanting and demanding the public records. Media from multiple news stations crowded to film the disturbance.
On May 7, I delivered a comprehensive packet to Chancellor Carnesale, which included documentation of my efforts to obtain the records. Among other things, I included all correspondence I had received from the Information Practices Office, a copy of the Freedom of Information Act, and a copy of my original list of the researchers whose records I wanted.
During the last week of May, I received a letter from the Information Practices Office informing me that the packet sent to the Chancellor had been forwarded to them, and that the documents were ready. Strangely, only 338 pages were available-1,110 pages less than were gathered in November. On May 31, 2002, I picked up the documents. It took almost eight months-almost one full school year.
Thrilled as I was to finally receive records, they were not exactly what I had asked for. The following are examples of UCLA's noncompliance with my request: 1) instead of receiving documentation on a requested experiment using primates, I received the records for the researcher's experiment on rats; 2) I also received the records of a researcher whose records I had not requested. These particular records were not even records on primate experimentation; 3) I received only two necropsy reports and no information about individual primates; and 4) Ms. Arquieta claimed that two researchers are not using any animal subjects, although the National Institute of Health indicates otherwise.
Clearly, my pursuit for records is not over. Ms. Arquieta once asked, in exasperation, "If I give you these documents, will you leave me alone?" and I said, "Yes, when you give me everything I originally asked for, I will be done." My statement remains true.
Erica Sutherland is an honors student at UCLA pursuing a degree in sociology with a minor in policy studies. She is scheduled to graduate in 2004.