Indiana public records board rejects IUS student’s open meetings complaint

INDIANA — The state’s public records board has upheld Indiana University Southeast’s decision to deny a student journalist access to a meeting in which student government members were divvying up student fees.

The state’s Office of the Public Access upheld IUS attorney Kiply Drew’s decision to deny student journalist Jeremy Eiler entry to a meeting of the Student Life Committee on the grounds that “it does not fit the definition of a governing body.” The group distributes student fees totaling more than $500,000.

“There has been no showing that the Committee, by itself, is a public agency under the [Indiana open door law],” wrote Joe Hoage, a public access counselor, in an advisory opinion issued Monday. “A committee that is not appointed directly by a governing body or its presiding officer does not constitute a governing body under the plain language of the [open door law].”

In the university’s response to Eiler’s complaint, Drew wrote that because the committee is not appointed directly by the IUS Board of Trustees, it can hold private meetings.

“The Open Door Law (ODL) applies only to governing bodies,” Drew wrote March 28. “Since the Student Life Committee … does not fit the definition of a governing body, its meetings are not required to be open to the public, and Mr. Eiler was not entitled to attend.”

Eiler’s complaint, filed March 15, argued that because the committee’s funding decisions can be audited by the state, the group is a public body and should hold its meetings in the open. He also said students have a right to know how a half-million dollars of their money is being distributed.

Thursday, Eiler said he was disappointed that Hoage’s letter didn’t address the fact that the committee’s money is public and instead relied on a narrow definition within the state’s open meetings law, which Eiler calls a “loophole.”

Some students aren’t happy with the way the university is spending their money, making transparency in the process very important, he said.

“A lot students just feel that our spending … doesn’t really benefit them as much,” he said. “A lot of budget cuts … are programs that are most utilized.”

The vice chancellor of student affairs appoints the committee, which is made up of one administrator, two faculty members, two staff and eight students. The committee submits its budget recommendations to the chancellor, who then passes it along to the Board of Trustees for approval.

The board approved the budget at its April 15 meeting.

In his complaint, Eiler called the chancellor’s approval “basically a formality” and that the committee hearing were “the only level of the process where the public can have meaningful input and advocate for change.”

After the denial, he said he plans to ask the board of trustees and state legislators to create a university-wide policy to close the loophole in the law.

“It doesn’t give students a right to represent their voice. It doesn’t really give representation to students about how their money is spent,” he said.

By Daniel Moore, SPLC staff writer. Contact Moore by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 125.