District court rules Univ. of Minnesota must disclose presidential candidates

MINNESOTA — Despite a recent district court rulingrequiring the University of Minnesota to hand over documents related to itssearch for a new university president, news organizations will have to wait tofind out who else was considered for the post.The university’s board ofregents received a temporary stay from the state court of appeals March 20,putting on hold a ruling by District Judge Pamela Alexander who ordered thenames of finalists and other pertinent information to be released by thatday.In her March 13 ruling, the Hennepin County District Court judgesaid that the board of regents had violated the Minnesota Data Practices Act andthe Minnesota Open Meeting Law by withholding the names of presidentialfinalists during the search last November.”The statutes do not limit theboard in who they may select as university president,” Alexander wrote. “Theyonly govern the procedures that the university must follow in making thedecision. Therefore, the court finds that the [Data Practices Act] and the [OpenMeeting Law] do not intrude on the board’s management of the university, sincethe application of these statutes do nothing to impair the authority of theboard has to select a president.”Area newspapers, including theuniversity’s independent student newspaper The Minnesota Daily, filedsuit last November after the board called an emergency meeting where RegentChair Maureen Reed announced that the presidential search advisory committee hadcompiled a list of “semi-finalists.” Members decided to suspend adherence to theopen meeting law to interview candidates in secret because, Reed said, severalof those individuals did not want to be interviewed unless their identities wereprotected.A few days later, Robert Bruininks was named the nextpresident and the only “finalist.” The board argued that the openmeeting law did not apply to the University of Minnesota because the statute doesnot expressly mention it. They also argued that use of the Data Practices Actwould be “an attempt by the legislature to control the exercise of theconstitutional powers of the board of regents over internal management of theuniversity.”The newspapers argued that the candidates interviewed for apublic employee position are already finalists and, therefore, their names mustbe publicized.Alexander wrote, the open meeting law was enacted toprotect the public’s right to know and to present their views as well as tomaintain accountability of public bodies. “The court finds that the[Open Meeting Law] applies to the board since the university is a ‘publicbody,'” Alexander wrote. The court said the Data Practices Act”regulates the collection, creation, storage, maintenance, dissemination andaccess to government data in state agencies, statewide systems and politicalsubdivisions.” “The court finds that there are no constitutionalproblems with applying the [Data Practices Act] and the [Open Meeting Law to]the board’s presidential search,” Alexander concluded. “The Minnesota SupremeCourt has upheld the Minnesota Legislature imposing procedures on the Universitywhere the procedures were ‘not aimed specifically at the university butapplie[d] to all public agencies of the state.'”The board of regents wasordered to disclose all “applicant data” of persons interviewed before Bruininkswas selected as president. That data included name, relevant test scores, jobhistory, education and training. The stay granted by the court ofappeals gives the university lawyers time to file an appeal of thedecision.

Northwest Publ’ns, Inc. v. Univ. of Minnesota Bd. of Regents, No. MC 02-19397 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Mar. 13, 2002)

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