Univ. of Minnesota withholds president finalists, papers sue

MINNESOTA ‘ A university president can be a school’s most important asset, so some schools do not want candidates known to the public until the deal is clinched. They will even sideswipe state open-meeting laws in order to conceal details of the presidential search.

In the case of the search for the next president of the University of Minnesota, local media organizations have filed a lawsuit to force the school to release the names of the candidates who were considered for the presidency and to comply in the future with open-meetings law.

In November the university’s board of regents voted unanimously to suspend its adherence to the state open-meetings law after a presidential search committee had submitted a list of five to seven candidates for its consideration.

Robert Bruininks was subsequently announced as the university’s next president on Nov. 7 after being identified as the only finalist for the job. The board argued that state law only orders that the names of finalists be made public, and the other candidates were never considered as such.

In their lawsuit, The St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Rochester Post Bulletin, the Minnesota Joint Media Committee, and the University of Minnesota student newspaper, The Minnesota Daily, contend the names of the candidates should be released because they are legally considered finalists. Members of the press had requested the names of the presidential candidates in a letter to the board of regents on Nov. 4

The suit states the university violated the states open-meetings and open records law.

Mike Oakes, an editor for The Minnesota Daily said, ‘The university should not be able to circumvent state law especially when it comes to something as important as the next university president.’

Mark Rotenberg, council for the university, said the school is not bound to follow the state’s open-meeting law because the university is older than Minnesota, therefore its charter supersedes the state constitution and laws.