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FOIA requests

On this page, you will find instructions for making a FOIA request at VCU, VCU’s responsibilities in responding to a FOIA request, costs, commonly invoked exceptions, VCU faculty/staff responsibilities upon receipt of a FOIA request, and useful links.

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), located in § 2.2-3700, et seq., of the Code of Virginia, gives citizens of Virginia (and certain news outlets) the right to request and receive public records from public bodies, officials and employees, subject to certain exemptions.

A public record is any writing or recording — whether paper, electronic, video or any other format — that is prepared, owned by or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. Public records are presumed to be open and may be withheld only if a specific statutory exemption applies.

The purpose of FOIA is to promote an increased awareness of governmental activities. In furtherance of this policy, FOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and that any exemption from access must be interpreted narrowly.

FOIA rights

Citizens of Virginia and representatives of media with circulation in or broadcasting into Virginia have the following rights under FOIA:

  • The right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
  • The right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.
  • The right to file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA if it is believed that rights under FOIA have been violated. Alternatively, the FOIA Council can be contacted for a nonbinding advisory opinion.

Making a request for records from VCU

Requests for access to records may be made by U.S. mail, fax, email, in person or over the phone. FOIA does not require that a request be in writing or that FOIA be specifically referenced in the request.

Making a FOIA request is not an adversarial process, but it may be necessary to discuss a particular request to ensure that the nature and scope of the request is fully understood. Cooperation with staff efforts to clarify the type of records that are being sought or to attempt to reach a reasonable agreement on a response to a request for a large volume of records is strongly encouraged.

If you require accommodation in making a FOIA request, please contact University Public Affairs at (804) 828-1231 or the ADA Coordinator with Equity and Access Services at (804) 828-1347 for help.

Make a FOIA request

Requests for records from VCU may be directed to:

Michele Howell
FOIA Officer University Public Affairs
Box 842041 Richmond, VA 23284-2041
Phone: (804) 827-3909
Fax: (804) 828-2018

Questions may also be directed to University Public Affairs staff at (804) 828-1231. In addition, the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer questions about FOIA. Contact the council at, (804) 225-3056 or toll free at (866) 448-4100.

VCU’s responsibilities in responding to a FOIA request

VCU must respond to your request within five working days of receiving it. “Day one” is considered the day after your request is received. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays.

The reason for the request for public records is irrelevant and need not be identified before the university responds to your request. However, FOIA does allow VCU to require the requesting individual to provide his/her name and legal address and to seek clarification of any request.

FOIA requires that VCU make one of the following responses to your request within the five-day time period:

  1. Provide the records that have been requested in their entirety.
  2. Withhold all of the requested records because all of the records are subject to specific statutory exemptions. If all of the records are being withheld, a written response must be provided that identifies the volume and subject matter of the records being withheld as well as the specific section of the Code of Virginia that permits withholding.
  3. Provide some of the requested records and withhold others. An entire record may not be withheld if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, the protected portion of the record may be redacted and the remainder of the record will be supplied. A written response citing the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld will be provided.
  4. Inform you in writing that the requested records cannot be found or do not exist. (VCU does not have the records you want.) However, if VCU knows that another public body has the requested records, it must include contact information for the other public body in its response.
  5. If it is practically impossible for VCU to respond to a FOIA request within the five-day period, a written response to this effect must be provided, in which case, FOIA permits seven additional working days to respond to the request.

If a large volume of records is requested, or, if other circumstances would render it difficult or impossible to provide the requested records within 12 working days without disrupting the university’s other organizational responsibilities, FOIA requires that a reasonable effort be made to reach an agreement concerning the production of the records. If an agreement cannot be reached, it may be necessary for VCU to seek permission for additional response time through the courts.


A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fee charged by a public body shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication. All charges for the supplying of requested records shall be estimated in advance at the request of the citizen as set forth in subsection F of § 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia. Requesting an estimate allows the requester to know about any costs in advance and can provide an opportunity to modify a request in an attempt to lower the estimated costs.

If the cost to fulfill the request is estimated to be more than $200, the university may require a deposit, not to exceed the amount of the estimate, before proceeding with your request. The five days allowed for response does not include the time between when the university asks for a deposit and when you respond.

An estimate is just that – an estimate. Actual costs may be greater or lesser than the estimated amount. In which case, VCU will refund any overage paid or will provide an invoice for any balance due. If there is an outstanding balance owed to VCU from a previous FOIA request for more than 30 days, VCU may require payment of the past-due invoice before it will respond to a new FOIA request from the same individual.

Types of records maintained by VCU*

*This list is intended as a guide and is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all records maintained by VCU.

Commonly invoked exceptions

The Code of Virginia allows public bodies to withhold certain records from public disclosure. VCU commonly withholds records subject to the following exemptions:

Policy regarding the use of exemptions

The general policy of VCU is to invoke the above-listed exemptions in those instances where they apply to protect the privacy of its employees and students and confidentiality of certain types of records meriting such protection under FOIA.

VCU faculty/staff responsibilities upon receipt of FOIA request

A department or individual that receives a FOIA request should do the following:

Useful links

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