Regents to announce presidential finalists today

But they contine to stand ground on media group’s legal action

by Josh Linehan

The University’s Board of Regents announced late Wednesday it will release today the name of the finalist – or finalists – in the University’s search for its next president.

The regents will make the announcement at 9 a.m. today in room 600 of the Gateway alumni center.

The announcement comes in the midst of a looming legal showdown between Minnesota’s media and the Board of Regents over the regents’ decision to keep the presidential interviews secret despite the state’s open meeting law.

No legal papers were filed as attorneys spent the day organizing and preparing a final letter outlining the media’s legal stance and asking the regents to reconsider a recent resolution excluding the board from the state’s open meeting law.

Amy Phenix, director of University News Service, said regents have been meeting with presidential candidates privately in the three days since the board waived their obligation to follow the open meeting law.

Phenix said she did not know whether the decision to announce the presidential candidate or candidates today was hastened by the threat of a lawsuit, and the regents were moving on a rapid timeline even before the mention of litigation.

She also said the regents still stand behind their resolution, which is based on the idea that the University is exempt from state law because it was founded before Minnesota’s constitution was enacted.

Attorney Mark Anfinson – who represents The Minnesota Daily – said if no action was taken by the end of business Wednesday, legal papers would be filed in Hennepin County Court this morning.

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said he had received a letter Tuesday and another on Wednesday, and he isn’t hopeful of avoiding a court battle.

“I don’t expect the regents’ position to change from the resolution passed Monday,” Rotenberg said.

Five media organizations have backed possible litigation: The Minnesota Daily, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Star Tribune, Hubbard Broadcasting – owners of KSTP television and radio – and the Minnesota Joint Media Committee, an umbrella journalism organization.

A letter sent to Rotenberg also asked the board to reconsider but did not provoke any action, said Paul Hannah, an attorney representing the media organizations.

“I talked to Mr. Rotenberg this morning,” he said. “He told me he had discussed the matter with the board, and the board had decided to follow with the resolution they passed on Monday.”

Three lawyers – Anfinson, Hannah and Eric Jorstad of the firm Faegre and Benson – will represent the media organizations.

Interim University President Robert Bruininks deferred comment to Rotenberg, citing the possible litigation.

Anfinson said Rotenberg’s response to Tuesday’s letter explained the regents were not necessarily happy about voting to set aside state law but felt handcuffed by requests from potential interviewees.

“My understanding is that the regents are not in any way enthusiastic of this process, but they feel it’s being forced on them by the demands of the candidates,” Anfinson said.

Anfinson said attorneys for the media organizations were sympathetic with such an argument to a point.

“But they still have to obey the law,” he added.

In a similar situation at the University of Missouri, the university’s Board of Curators announced Tuesday it had a finalist for its open president position.

The Missouri search has been conducted entirely in secret, since that state’s sunshine law does not require disclosure of finalists for jobs such as university president.