June 18, 1996
Mr. Jackson Leeds
142-24 61st Road
Flushing, NY 11367-1202
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
Dear Mr. Leeds:
I have received your letter of June 5 in which you requested an advisory opinion concerning access to records maintained by the CUNY College of Law at Queens College.
You wrote that the request is based upon the use of a Texas statute which in your view is analogous to the New York Freedom of Information Law under which an applicant obtained "a list of all top scoring applicants rejected by [a] school in recent years." You have sought my views concerning the extent to which the CUNY School of Law must release:
"...the files and related records of REJECTED applicants including but not limited to their applications for admission (e.g. name, addresses, telephone numbers, LSDAS/LSAT registration number) with attachments, records of reasons for rejection and records showing the names of faculty member(s) or CUNY Law School employees and their vote for or against each rejected applicant" (emphasis yours).
In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, I am unfamiliar with the substance of the Texas statute to which you alluded. Nevertheless, in my view it is likely irrelevant, for rights of access to agency records in New York are governed by the New York Freedom of Information Law.
Second, as you are aware, the Freedom of Information Law is based upon a presumption of access. Stated differently, all records of an agency are available, except to the extent that records or portions thereof fall within one or more grounds for denial appearing in §87(2)(a) through (i) of the Law.
From my perspective, insofar as the records sought include identifying details pertaining to candidates for admission, the records may be withheld on the ground that disclosure would constitute "an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" [see Freedom of Information Law, §87(2)(b)].
In my view, when records identify an individual as one whose application for admission has been rejected, that fact alone involves a disclosure that would fall within the exception. Additionally, the blank application that you enclosed requires the submission of a variety of items which in my opinion, by their nature, could justifiably be withheld as an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. Among those items would be social security numbers, resident addresses and phone numbers, dates of birth, alien registration numbers, LSDAS/LSAT registration numbers and similar personal details.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Kristin Booth Glen, Dean