ATI vs. Rector was the case where the American Traditions Institute sued UVa to gain access to Michael Mann's Emails. In a surprising (to Eli) and sensible decision, the Virginia Supreme Court came down with a major decision for academics at public universities
One of the issues in the case was whether UVa and by extension Michael Mann had a proprietary interest in the matters discussed in the Emails. Given that the Virginia FOIA law specifically exempts proprietary materials and that ATI claimed that proprietary implied the possibility of profit, this would have opened the doors to further mischief.
The door just slammed, at least in VA (emphasis added)
We reject ATI's narrow construction of financial competitive advantage as a definition of "proprietary" because it is not consistent with the General Assembly's intent to protect public universities and colleges from being placed at a competitive disadvantage in relation to private universities and colleges. In the context of the higher education research exclusion, competitive disadvantage implicates not only financial injury, but also harm to university-wide research efforts, damage to faculty recruitment and retention, undermining of faculty expectations of privacy and confidentiality, and impairment of free thought and expression. This broader notion of competitive disadvantage is the overarching principle guiding application of the exemption.and they quoted from a brief filed by the UVa Vice Provost John Simon
If U.S. scientists at public institutions lose the ability to protect their communications with faculty at other institutions, their ability to collaborate will be gravely harmed. The result will be a loss of scientific and creative opportunities for faculty at institutions in states which have not established protections under state FOIAs for such communications. . . .
For faculty at public institutions such as the University of Virginia, compelled disclosure of their unpublished thoughts, data, and personal scholarly communications would mean a fundamental disruption of the norms and expectations which have enabled research to flourish at the great public institutions for over a century . . . .
Scientists at private institutions such as Duke, where I previously worked, that are not subject to state freedom of information statutes, will not feel that it is possible to continue collaborations with scientists at public institutions if doing [s]o means that every email or other written communication discussing data, preliminary results, drafts of papers, review of grant proposals, or other related activities is subject to public release under a state FOIA in contravention of scholarly norms and expectations of privacy and confidentiality. . . . Compelled disclosure [in this case] will also impair recruitment and retention of faculty . . . .
I can state unequivocally that recruitment of faculty to an institution like the University of Virginia will be deeply harmed if such faculty must fear that their unpublished communications with the scientific collaborators and scholarly colleagues are subject to involuntary public disclosure. We will also lose key faculty to recruitments from other institutions – such as Duke, if their continued work at University of Virginia will render their communications involuntarily public.This is indeed a major decision which may stop much of the pursuit of climate scientists by industry, think tanks and denialists. Eli thanks ATI for bringing this about. Also thanks to UVa, the lawyers representing UVa, Michael Mann, who has taken a brave decision to fight his pursuers (Hi Steve) and Prof. Mann's lawyers.