Mild mannered and exquisitely polite, Professor Hwan Lin is an unlikely candidate for the perjorative “vexatious” label. Yet that is what the University of London says about the Taiwanese-American scholar. The University has gone so far as to deny a Freedom of Information request from Lin for information concerning the PhD thesis of Republic of China in-exile President Tsai Ing-wen using his purported vexatiousness as the excuse.
Lin has stated he intends to refer the matter to the United Kingdom Information Commissioner to determine whether his FOI request was vexatious or not. Lin has shared his request so you can decide for yourself if you believe Lin was being vexatious.
Dear University of London,
In 1984, there was Central Registry within Academic Division of the Senate Department of the University of London, and Mrs. P. C. Kennedy served as Supervisor of the Central Registry according to the University of London Calendar of 1983-84.
Please kindly answer the following questions:
1. Did Mrs. P. C. Kennedy continue to serve as Supervisor of the Central Registry in 1987 at the University of London? Does she still work at the University of London today?
2. Was there a person, called “Mrs. A. M. Amos,” who worked together with Mrs. P. C. Kennedy within the Central Registry in 1984? If not, did Mrs. A. M. Amos work elsewhere then at the University of London?
The above questions are my FOIA request to the University of London. Thank you very much for your valuable time in advance.
Lin’s inquiry was directed at exploration of the paper trail at the University of London over the years concerning President Tsai’s thesis. The Senate House Library, the offical repository of theses for the University of London, never received a copy of the thesis, raising questions about the validity of Tsai’s PhD degree awarded in 1984.
In refusing to answer Lin’s questions, the school explained its rationale for non-compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.
“The University considers that your request has the potential to cause a disproportionate or unjustified level of disruption, irritation or distress.”
“Your request has met one or more of the following criteria of a vexatious request: being a burden on the authority; using abusive or aggressive language; bearing a personal grudge; being of unreasonable persistence; giving unfounded accusations; or a deliberate attempt to cause annoyance.”
Lin’s request does not seem like much of a burden and he certainly didn’t use abusive language. There does not seem to be a personal grudge angle either. To be sure, Lin is persistent, but is he being unreasonable?
Perhaps the University sees Lin guilty of unfounded accusations for his critical public report on President Tsai’s PhD degree. Surely Lin is not guilty of a deliberate attempt to annoy. The University of London may wish to tap into some of their best linguists to craft an answer in the event the Information Commissioner demands an explanation for the vexatious refusal to comply with the law.
As a courtesy, Lin replied to Records Management and Information Governance Officer Emily Brick that she had defamed him with her accusation of vexatiousness. Lin further explained the requested information had already been published by the school so there was no problem with disclosure of personal data.
“Public authorities are obligated to provide recorded information, particularly when it has been made accessible to the public. The record of the Central-Registry staff was already published in the University of London Calendars in the 1980s.”