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The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

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A look back on access to U president-selection process

In the wake of a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that found the University broke public information laws, University President Bob Bruininks said there has been little to no impact on the University.

In November 2002, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Star Tribune, The Minnesota Daily, the Rochester Post-Bulletin and the Minnesota Joint Media Committee sued the Board of Regents for failing to release the names of candidates and for holding confidential meetings during the search to replace University President Mark Yudof.

In July 2004, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the board broke state public-information laws by disobeying the Minnesota Data Practices Act and Open Meeting Law. The court ruled the University had to release the names of the candidates.

The Minnesota Data Practices Act says all state documents are open to the public, unless the law specifically states otherwise. The Open Meeting Law says all meetings of public bodies and their committees are open.

Bruininks said the ruling has had little effect on the University, except that in some positions, releasing names can create some heightened sensitivity, especially in early stages of the application process.

“If you’re a CEO of a corporation or a dean in a particular field, it gets to be sensitive,” he said. “When public exposure of (a) name can hurt your standing in your current position, you just have to be careful about it.”

Although vast changes to the University might not be apparent, some said the lawsuit was a step in the right direction.

Star Tribune attorney John Borger, who argued the case for the five media outlets, said he expects the University to follow through on the ruling.

“It should certainly change the next election of the (University) president,” he said. “That was the major instance in which the University indicated it was not going to follow the terms of the Open Meeting Law and the Data Practices Act.”

Gary Hill, the KSTP-TV representative of the Society of Professional Journalists, said he hopes the ruling will prevent the behavior the University exhibited in the last presidential search, although he’s not certain it will.

“I think the University already knew what they were doing was in violation of both the Data Practices Act and the Open Meeting Law and tried to do it anyway,” he said.

Hill said the board should not have been allowed to deliberate in secret when the law required it to do so in the open.

“I think it was arrogant and wasteful,” he said. “Certainly, it was the kind of thing that media organizations, in their role as watchdog of the public, couldn’t let stand.

“It needs to be an open and transparent process that the public can have faith in that the best are being hired.”

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