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
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
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
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
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.
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