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University presidential search ruled open

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    News Media Update         MINNESOTA         Freedom of Information    

University presidential search ruled open

  • The Supreme Court of Minnesota ruled that state open government laws apply to the search for a University of Minnesota president.

July 20, 2004 — The Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota must release its list of finalists for the position of president of the university, the Supreme Court of Minnesota ruled Thursday. The court ruled that the Minnesota Constitution did not exempt the board from the state’s open government laws.

The lawsuit, Star Tribune Co. vs. University of Minnesota Board of Regents , was filed by a number of Minnesota news organizations under the Open Meeting Law and the Data Practices Act. The two laws require state agencies to conduct employee hiring processes within the public view.

The position of university president was vacated in July 2002 with the resignation of then-President Mark Yudof. On Nov. 4, 2002, the Board of Regents announced it was “suspending” its adherence to the OML and DPA, saying several candidates had refused to be interviewed if their identities would be revealed. Three days later, the board 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 empowered by the Minnesota Constitution to select a president, laws enacted by the legislature such as the open meetings and records laws were unconstitutional as applied to them.

Both the trial court and by the court of appeals rejected the board’s argument and ordered it to comply with the laws. The board appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Student Press Law Center filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

On July 15, the state Supreme Court affirmed the rulings in a 4-2 opinion written by Justice Russell A. Anderson. Justice Alan C. Page took no part in the decision; no reason was given as to why.

“[N]either statute is an intrusion into the internal management of the university,” Anderson wrote. “They affect the presidential search process only in its interface with the outside world, that is, the extent to which this public institution, which is funded substantially by public tax dollars, must make the final part of that process accessible to the public.

“Finally, we are concerned that, if adopted, the Regents’ arguments in favor of autonomy may know no discernable bounds,” he continued. “Although the Regents expressly limit their request to a ruling with regard to the presidential search process, the rationale supporting such a holding does not contain a principled end point and could result in exempting the university from many other laws currently applied to it.”

(Star Tribune Co. v. Univ. of Minn. Board of Regents; Media Counsel: John P. Borger, Faegre & Benson, Minneapolis) GP

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© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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