Update: Kentucky open records clash gains new participants at Western Kentucky University

KENTUCKY—The battle over Title IX records in Kentucky just got bigger, as Western Kentucky University and the College Heights Herald are joining the fight.

In November, the Kentucky Kernel asked WKU to produce documents relating to Title IX investigations of sexual misconduct by a faculty member who was allowed to resign. The Herald followed soon after, and last week Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear gave the opinion that WKU was in violation of the Kentucky Open Records Act by withholding the documents.

The Herald reported the AG’s office requested to see redacted copies of the documents, but WKU refused to turn them over for in camera review. The AG says the refusal to turn over even redacted copies stands in the way of the government’s goals for transparency.

“Without the review, there can be no government transparency, as a bad actor can easily cheat the system. In the context of a university, it would allow an institution to hide serious issues related to sexual assault, to ignore victims, and to tell parents and families that a given campus may be safer than it is,” Beshear said in a statement to the SPLC.

WKU said it will appeal Beshear’s decision, saying the release of the documents would compromise the privacy and educational records of the parties involved. The appeal necessitates suing the requesting journalists.

“WKU has an obligation to protect educational records and privacy rights of the complaining witnesses pursuant to federal law,” Andrea Anderson, WKU’s Title IX coordinator, said in a statement. “We have advised that we would adhere to the outcome of litigation between the University of Kentucky and their student newspaper on this very issue.”

The litigation Anderson referring to is the high-profile case where the University of Kentucky sued the Kernel to avoid releasing similar documents. That case, with its many twists and turns, might take a while to resolve.

Last month, a circuit court judge overturned Beshear’s order to turn over the documents, a decision the Kernel plans to appeal.

The Kernel was unavailable for comment.

Herald editor Lashana Harney said the student newspaper is ready for what’s to come.

“We here at the Herald value our responsibility to the public to push for transparency and to push for accountability, so regardless of WKU’s decision to appeal we will continue to fight,” Harney said.

SPLC staff writer James Hoyt can be reached by email or (202) 478-1926.

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