The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief today with the Supreme Court of Minnesota, urging the court to order the release of the names of finalists for the position of president of the University of Minnesota.
The lawsuit, Star Tribune Co. vs. Regents of the University of Minnesota, was filed by a number of Minnesota news organizations under the state’s Open Meeting Law (OML) and Data Practices Act (DPA). The OML and DPA require state agencies to conduct searches for employees within the public view.
The position of university president was vacated in July 2002 with the resignation of then-president Mark Yudof, and the University began the process of searching for his replacement. In November 2002, the Board of Regents announced that it was “suspending” its adherence to the OML and DPA when several of the candidates refused to be interviewed if their identities would be revealed. Three days later the Regents announced then-interim president Roberts Bruininks as the only finalist and awarded him the position. The news organizations filed suit the following day.
The Board of Regents argued that because it was created by the Minnesota Constitution and thereby directed to elect a president, laws enacted by the Legislature such as the OML and DPA were unconstitutional as applied to them.
The Regent’s argument was rejected by the trial court and by the Court of Appeals, both of which ordered the Regents to comply with the OML and DPA and reveal the names of the finalists. The Regents appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Reporters Committee, joined on the brief by the Student Press Law Center, argue that the president of the University of Minnesota is a public official, paid with and responsible for public funds. The public, therefore, has an important interest in access to the selection process in order to provide comment on candidates and to be assured that the candidate ultimately selected is worthy of the public trust.
“There’s no question it’s easier to select a university president secretly,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. “But that’s not how Minnesota lawmakers decided to do it. They wisely chose to mandate a system that called for the identity of finalists to be revealed.”
The Reporters Committee brief argues, “Open government laws allow oversight that ensures public confidence in public institutions and prevents waste and corruption. Considering all that the nation’s public universities accomplish, they do not seem to be suffering from this oversight, nor is the quality of university presidents suffering.”
The Reporters Committee’s brief can be found at: www.rcfp.org/news/documents/20031222-startrib.pdf.html