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University broke law in presidential search by withholding information

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    NMU         MINNESOTA         Freedom of Information    

University broke law in presidential search by withholding information

  • Public records and open meetings laws apply when a state university’s board searches for a new university president, a Hennepin County court ruled in mid-March.

March 18, 2003 — By withholding names and other information about semifinalists in a search for a new president, the University of Minnesota violated the state Data Practices Act and the Open Meetings Law, according to a March 13 ruling by Hennepin County District Court Judge Pamela Alexander in Minneapolis.

The decision came after the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents announced Nov. 4, 2002, that it would meet in private with candidates applying for the post. On Nov. 7, five media organizations, including Minnesota Public Radio, the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press sued under the state’s open records law for access to the names and information about the semifinalists.

The court ruled that the Data Practices Act applies to “the Board [of Regents] in the context of a presidential search.” It ruled that the Open Meetings Law applies to such searches as well.

“The people of the state of Minnesota rely on both the Data Practices Act and the Open Meetings Law to protect their ability to scrutinize the activities and decisions of the public officials to whom they have entrusted the conduct of their public affairs,” Alexander wrote.

Star Tribune editor Anders Gyllenhaal was pleased with the ruling, which he called “important and meaningful.”

“The university was out of sync with the law,” and this decision will correct that, Gyllenhaal said.

University officials told the Star Tribune that they plan to appeal.

“The primary job of the Board of Regents is to hire the best president it can,” said board chairwoman Maureen Reed in a November 2002 interview. “We wanted to move forward with our search process but doing so in public would mean some of those candidates would no longer want to be interviewed.”

(Star Tribune v. Regents of the University of Minnesota; Media counsel: Mark Anfinson, John P. Borger, Trish Stembridge, Paul Hannah, St. Paul, Minn.) GS

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