Experts react to appeals court ruling

Some say decision keeps University’s business public; others say it limits presidential candidate pool.

Kari Petrie

A day after the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled the University Board of Regents is subject to two state public information laws, experts offered their opinions on the decision.

One media member and a legal expert said the ruling was important for keeping the University’s business public. But one regent said abiding by the laws during presidential searches is detrimental the University.

The University had argued Minnesota’s Data Practices Act and Open Meeting Law did not apply to the regents when selecting a president because of the institution’s constitutional autonomy.

But five media groups – The Minnesota Daily, the Star Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Rochester Post-Bulletin and the Minnesota Joint Media Committee – sued the board after it refused to reveal the names of finalists and voted to close all presidential search meetings.

“It’s a good day when the court says that all public entities in the state should be treated the same under the laws,” said Gary Hill, Freedom of Information Co-Chair for the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists. “The University just decided what it wanted to do and tried to bend the law to fit its purposes after the fact.”

Hill said he does not agree with the regents’ argument that releasing the names of the search finalists would prevent the University from getting the best candidates. Being considered for such a sought-after position should improve the presidential candidates’ image, he said.

Regent Anthony Baraga disagreed.

Baraga said potential candidates will be concerned about their names being made public, limiting the number of qualified candidates. He added the decision will not affect the University’s day-to-to business.

“It will probably be business as usual,” he said..

The regents will decide next week whether to appeal the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court, Baraga said.

The decision upheld a March ruling by the Hennepin County District Court that also required the board to release the finalists’ names.

A constitutional law professor at Hamline University, Mary Jane Morrison, said she was not surprised by the higher court’s decision and expects the University to appeal.

Morrison said even if the University loses its appeal, the institution could ask the Legislature to exempt it from the public information laws during presidential searches.

The deciding factor, Morrison said, will be whether Minnesotans want the University to be as open as the federal government when selecting a president.

“(I)t is not over yet,” Morrison said.

Kari Petrie covers the Board of Regents and administration. She welcomes comments at [email protected]