The University Record, January 10, 1994

Flint’s Morrissey named FOIA officer

By Mary Jo Frank

As part of his duties at the Flint Journal, Lewis A. Morrissey gained first-hand experience using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to ferret out facts for investigative reports.

Understanding the FOIA from a journalist’s perspective will come in handy, predicts Morrissey, who assumed his duties as the U-M’s new freedom of information officer and director of special projects for university relations Jan. 3. Morrissey succeeds Virginia B. Nordby, who retired in June as FOIA officer. She also was associate vice president for student affairs.

“We’re very fortunate to be able to attract someone with Lew’s experience—both as a journalist and as anadministrator—to this sensitive and important position,” says Walter Harrison, vice president for university relations.

“The FOIA officer often has to balance complex and confusing demands, and Lew’s sensitivity will serve him well. He will also be supervising some important new initiatives in our outreach program, and I am very excited about that,” Harrison adds.

Morrissey, who has served as director of university relations at U-M-Flint since 1989, began his journalism career as a reporter at the Flint Journal in 1966. He served as suburban editions editor, editorial page editor and news editor before becoming metro editor in 1986. As metro editor, Morrissey directed local news coverage, supervising more than 50 reporters and editors.

An adjunct lecturer at the U-M-Flint in 1982–87, Morrissey taught print journalism courses and helped develop journalism course offerings there.

“I appreciate the importance of an informed electorate. Democracy is premised upon the right to know and the need to have an informed public,” says Morrissey, who earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, Columbia.

“The Freedom of Information Act is intended to ensure the public’s right to know what their government is doing and how its actions affect them. The role of the Freedom of Information officer is to help the public obtain records regarding the affairs of the University to which they are rightfully entitled under the law,” he says.

Morrissey sees the FOIA officer’s role as one of providing service rather than being an adversary of those seeking information about the U-M.

“As a journalist it has been my job to know where to go to find out information and how to ask questions,” he says.

In the initial act and in subsequent interpretations, it is recognized that certain records can legitimately be protected because the likely harm of disclosure outweighs the public’s right to access those records.

“But in some instances the records being requested may fall into a gray area. When that occurs, I will work with the University’s Office of the General Counsel to determine the appropriate response,” Morrissey adds.