The famous Abbott and Costello burlesque routine riffing on a baseball line up- "Who's on first?" Answer: "Who" was our first thought as we read and listened to the ongoing battles between universities and their foundations versus a student newspaper and now public watchdog media group.
The two flagship universities have become embroiled in the legal system over issues regarding open records and open files. Questions of what to tell media and what is protected are ironic centerpieces for centers of higher education that purport to be all about intelligent exchanges of information.
For our readers who may be as confused as we are over who is suing who (whom?) - this is what we know today:
University of Kentucky vs. Kentucky Kernel: The Kentucky Kernel is the student newspaper for UK. The Kernel, run by students and located on university property, is independent of the school. Back in April, 2016, allegations were made against a UK professor James Harwood of sexual misconduct. The Kernel filed an open records request for all documents related to the allegations. UK refused citing privacy concerns on behalf of the victims. The Kernel asked the Kentucky Attorney General for an opinion on whether records should be provided. On August 9th, the AG agreed with the Kernel.
That day, the University announced it would file suit against the Kernel. The suit was filed on August 31st. Attorney General Beshear has announced that his office will seek to intervene as a party in the suit. It's up to a Fayette circuit judge to decide whether to let the AG in or keep him out.
Last week UK President Capilouto told university trustees that the motivation of the student newspaper was sensationalism and increasing circulation. That prompted a furious letter from the UK journalism faculty to the President asking him to apologize and withdraw the suit.
William Wright set up a gofundme account to help the Kernel to pay legal costs for the dispute. At this writing, over $12000 has been donated toward a goal of $15,000. https://www.gofundme.com/2nt42rsb
Over in Louisville, the tangle of issues that have arisen while U of L's President James Ramsey served as president of U of L foundation is going to be unwound in the courts.
The first question was whether the U of L Foundation is a public or private agency. The courts have ruled that it is the creature of the university and not private. That ruling means that the foundation is subject to the same open meetings, open records rules as the university it supports.
The Foundation manages an over $700 million endowment on behalf of the school. Yes, you read that correctly: 700,000,000 dollars.
During the tenure of U of L President James Ramsey, questions arose over embezzlement of university funds from the school. He resigned his post as university president after a series of go-no go- go maneuvers that involved the new governor, the make up of the university board of trustees. Ramsey stayed on as Foundation president. That prompted questions on monies managed by the Foundation which President Ramsey continues to run.
Today, months of refusing to answering questions from the media, a suit was filed in Jefferson Circuit Court.
"Louisville Public WFPL's Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting has filed a lawsuit against the University of Louisville Foundation, the latest step in an ongoing public records fight.
The Foundation, once led by former U of L President James Ramsey, manages the university's some $700 million endowment. Ramsey resigned last week from his Foundation post. In a press release, the university released a statement that the next university president will not automatically lead the Foundation.
The suit, filed Thursday in Jefferson Circuit Court, seeks an injunction to force the Foundation to release ethics and disclosure forms, along with payroll and financial documents first requested by KyCIR in February..." (Follow "More" for full press release).
We note in passing that Amye Bensenhaver the person in the Kentucky Attorney General's Office who has handled questions related to open records and open meetings for twenty five years resigned at the beginning of September citing "considerable duress."
Two universities and one foundation may want to see if she's available.