North Carolina press takes on university system to gain access to chancellor's advisory committees

NORTH CAROLINA — Journalists from around the state have joined forces to fight the University of North Carolina for access to chancellor’s committee meetings.The North Carolina Press Association and twelve member newspapers threatened to file suit in April against the university system to open meetings of a planning committee established by Patricia Sullivan, UNC-Greensboro Chancellor. The committee, made up of university employees, students and community representatives, was set up as an advisory board to Sullivan.At an April meeting, the Board of Governors decided to appoint a committee to try and settle the claim made by the journalists.Kevin Schwartz, the general manager of The Daily Tar Heel, a student newspaper at UNC – Chapel Hill which is a party in the complaint, said he expects that the settlement will grant journalists access to the advisory committee meetings.A 1994 amendment to the North Carolina Open Meetings law says that advisory committees of the university must be open to the public.Schwartz said that there are many of these advisory committees that deal with issues from athletics to buildings and grounds. These committees can be made up of staff, students, administrators and the public.The university’s chancellor has called these meetings staff meetings, according to Schwartz, even though some of the committees do not contain any staff members. Staff meetings are exempt from the pubic meetings law.