Not long ago, Sarah Roberts of Madison went online to check the UW System's budget Redbook, as she's done in the past, and discovered that salary data for individuals is no longer posted. She called the UW and was purportedly told it was removed for "privacy" reasons but still available at public libraries. To her, this makes no sense at all.
"I'm very interested in privacy too, but this information is by its nature not private," says Roberts, a private-sector IT specialist. She doesn't understand why the UW, after years of posting this information online, is now "creating layers of difficulty" to obtain it. She says that, with no public input, "A major method for citizens to easily view information about the university has been rescinded."
David Giroux, the UW System's able spokesman, says the salary information was removed in December after having been available online for the last 10 years. It was pulled after chancellors and provosts throughout the state complained that "other universities were using this information to our disadvantage," to cherry-pick lower-paid faculty.
The UW, says Giroux, was the only state agency that posted salary data online; it remains available on CDs at libraries or upon request from the UW. While this means others can still get it, "at least then we'd know who was looking." And if the UW were "deluged by requests from other universities" for Redbook CDs, "we might change our approach."
Roberts isn't buying it: "I don't think it's in their purview to put conditions of use on this information. It's public." Besides, she wonders, couldn't someone simply obtain this data and post it online, as a searchable database available to all and sundry? Giroux confirms that there is nothing to prevent this: "We do not claim any sort of copyright or other ownership."