Court opens college presidential search

MINNESOTA ‘ Despite a recent district court ruling requiring the University of Minnesota to hand over documents related to its search for a new university president, news organizations will have to wait to find out who was considered for the post.

The university’s board of regents received a temporary stay from the state court of appeals March 20, putting on hold a ruling by district Judge Pamela Alexander that ordered the names of finalists and other pertinent information to be released by that day.

In her March 13 ruling, the Hennepin County District Court judge said that the board of regents had violated the Minnesota Data Practices Act and the Minnesota Open Meeting Law by withholding the names of presidential finalists during the search last November.

‘The statutes do not limit the board in who they may select as university president,’ Alexander wrote. ‘They only govern the procedures that the university must follow in making the decision. Therefore, the court finds that the [Data Practices Act] and the [Open Meeting Law] do not intrude on the board’s management of the university, since the application of these statutes do nothing to impair the authority the board has to select a president.’

Area newspapers, including the university’s independent student newspaper, The Minnesota Daily, filed suit last November after the board called an emergency meeting, during which regents Chair Maureen Reed announced that the presidential search advisory committee had compiled a list of ‘semi-finalists.’ Board members decided to suspend adherence to the open meeting law to interview candidates in secret because, Reed said, several of those individuals did not want to be interviewed unless their identities were protected.

A few days later, Robert Bruininks was named president and the only ‘finalist.’

The board argued that the open meeting law did not apply to the University of Minnesota because the statute does not expressly mention it. They also argued that use of the Data Practices Act would be ‘an attempt by the Legislature to control the exercise of the constitutional powers of the board of regents over internal management of the university.’

The newspapers argued that the candidates interviewed for a public employee position are already finalists and, therefore, their names must be publicized.

The court affirmed that the Data Practices Act, which regulates government records, and the open-meetings law apply to the university because it is a public body.

The board of regents was ordered to disclose all ‘applicant data’ of persons interviewed before Bruininks was selected as president. That data included name, relevant test scores, job history, education and training.

The stay granted by the court of appeals gives the university lawyers time to file an appeal of the decision.

The Minnesota Daily et al. v. Univ. of Minnesota Bd. of Regents, No. MC 02-19397 (Hennepin County Dist. Ct. Mar. 13, 2002)