It is unfortunate that a circuit court judge last week ruled that those bedrock principles don’t apply to the University of Kentucky.
Fayette Circuit Judge Thomas Travis agreed with UK that it doesn’t have to follow the Kentucky Open Records Act by providing documents to the Office of the Attorney General in a sexual harassment case involving a professor who was allowed to resign before being disciplined.
UK’s independent student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, appealed to the AG’s office, as the law requires, when UK refused to give the paper documents about its handling of the case.
As part of its review, the AG’s office asked to see the documents “in camera” or secretly in order to determine whether they should be open. UK refused to give the documents, even with names and other identifying information redacted, to the AG’s office, claiming federal laws protecting student privacy prevent it from doing so.
UK contends that it is trying to protect the privacy of its students but to accept that is to ignore the long history of institutions circling the wagons to protect themselves. It also ignores the very legitimate right of students, potential students and their families to know how cases of sexual predation and harassment are handled by the university.
Attorney General Andy Beshear said he will appeal Travis’ decision. Ultimately, this case will probably make its way to the Kentucky Supreme Court where, we hope, the commitment to accountability will carry the day.