Information is power, we all know that.
The question for a public institution like the University of Kentucky is whether that power should be held closely by a few or shared with the rest of us.
The answer is that the public has the right to know — within limits — what's going on at UK and where it is going.
The consultant who just completed an evaluation of UK President Eli Capilouto for the board of trustees recommended he make an annual state of the university address to share more about the big picture. Although the evaluation, based on interviews with and surveys of various constituencies, was generally very positive, it did note that many interviewed "do not see a holistic vision."
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More concerning is what seems to be a pattern of almost knee-jerk denials of open-records requests by UK's attorneys.
This arose two years ago when UK stonewalled requests for mortality data for pediatric cardiothoracic surgery patients. After drawing national media attention, and a finding from the state attorney general's office that the records should be released, UK reversed course and provided the information.
But UK's attorneys still seem a bit shaky on open-records law. In two recent opinions, which carry the force of law in open-records cases, the attorney general found that UK violated the law. In one case UK refused to release information about protocols for treatment of animals used in teaching. The other case focused on correspondence between the Kentucky Cancer Registry, maintained at UK's Markey Cancer Center, and a hospital about potential problems with reporting cancer statistics.
Concerning protocols relating to animals, UK demurred, saying researchers could be in danger if the information became public. But the AG's opinion noted that UK already publishes a lot of it, including "courses in which animals are used for teaching purposes as well as the names of the faculty and staff, department names, office locations."
Kentucky law includes exemptions from the open-records requirement but places the burden of proof for meeting them on the agency. But, the opinion notes, UK's "responses, both original and supplemental, are devoid of proof" substantiating its denial.
In the other case, an attorney requested correspondence about reporting of cancer statistics by Lourdes Hospital in Paducah. UK's denial cited state law allowing exemption of "certain extracts, subsets, or compilations of data" that could reveal privileged information.
The AG saw that as an over-broad interpretation of the exemption. "Certainly, the public should be privy to information that a hospital has exposed itself to administrative fines by failing to comply with a statute designed to promote the health of Kentucky residents."