Magazine article Times Higher Education

Boo! Poo, Ban Onan in the Loo

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Boo! Poo, Ban Onan in the Loo

Article excerpt

Bizarre FoI requests waste university resources, say fatigued staff. David Matthews writes.

The Freedom of Information Act strove to advance democracy by committing public institutions to exacting standards of transparency and openness. You can also use it to ask universities about duck poo, hauntings and bans on masturbation in the library toilets.

Those burning issues are among the bizarre FoI requests that universities had to process last year, with institutions warning that issuing responses is a drain on resources.

Highlights from last year include the member of the public concerned by a "Masturbation Notice" that appeared at the University of St Andrews stating that self-gratification was banned in the library toilets.

He dispatched an FoI request to St Andrews to check the sign's veracity, asking for "all internal correspondence regarding the decision to create the notices".

Niall Scott, director of corporate communications at St Andrews, wrote back to say that "a strong clue that the notice is fake is the line 'Please go home and masturbate if you are bored.' As a matter of policy, the university would never encourage students to go home during term- time."

The St Andrews request came from prolific FoI Act user Steve Elibank, who also asked the University of Oxford for the "branding and/or style guidelines" for the Oxford Reading Tree series of children's books featuring the Biff and Chip characters, published by Oxford University Press. …

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