University of Wisconsin–Madison

Public Records

In its most general terms the Wisconsin Public Records Law (Wis. Stat. §§ 19.31-19.39) provides that a requester may inspect and/or receive a copy of any record that is not specifically excepted by some provision of state or federal law.

Wisconsin favors broad access to records and the law states:

All persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them. Providing such information is an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties of state employees.

The Wisconsin Public Records Law authorizes requesters to inspect or obtain copies of “records” maintained by government “authorities.” The University of Wisconsin-Madison is an authority that must adhere to the public records law. The law states that records held by the University are presumed to be open to inspection and copying, but there are some exceptions.

Wisconsin Stat. § 19.36(2) – (13) lists records specifically exempt from disclosure pursuant to the public records statute itself. Other state and federal statutes and court decisions also require that certain types of records remain confidential, such as:

  • The home address, home email address, home telephone number, or social security number of an employee.
  • Student records and personally identifiable information contained in student records.
  • Patient health care records pursuant to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).
  • Information used for staff management planning, including performance evaluations, judgments, or recommendations concerning future salary adjustments or other wage treatments, management bonus plans, promotions, job assignments, letters of reference, or other comments or ratings relating to employees.

Requirements of the public records law apply to records that exist at the time a public records request is made. The public records law does not require authorities to provide requested information if no responsive record exists, and generally does not require authorities to create new records in order to fulfill public records requests. The Public Records Law only applies to government records. A records custodian is not required by the Public Records Law to answer questions on a topic of interest to a requester.

The public records statutes do not address the general duty to retain records, however UW-Madison records retention schedules and disposition can be found here: UW-Madison Records Retention and Disposition.

Image of file folders containing records

Questions? Contact:

Lisa Hull
Public Records Custodian
Email: public_records@wisc.edu
Voice: (608) 890-4881; Relay calls accepted
Office of Compliance
361 Bascom Hall
500 Lincoln Dr.
Madison, WI 53706