Judge Rules In Favor Of UK In Open-Records Case

Jan 24, 2017

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto
Credit University of Kentucky

A Kentucky judge has ruled in favor of the University of Kentucky in an open-records case involving its campus newspaper’s pursuit of documents regarding a sexual harassment investigation of a former professor.

Fayette Circuit Court Judge Thomas Clark reversed a state attorney general’s opinion that said the state’s flagship university in Lexington had violated the state’s open-records law by refusing to release documents on the professor’s case to the student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel.

The newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Marjorie Kirk, said in an interview Tuesday the Kernel would “pursue an appeal” of the decision.

In his ruling made public Tuesday, Clark said the documents are “educational records” protected from disclosure by a federal student privacy law. He also said the records “cannot reasonably be redacted” to protect the privacy of students who made the allegations against the professor.

The professor later resigned but did not admit guilt.

Debate over the case balanced transparency of a state university and the public’s right to know with concerns about whether the records, if made public, would reveal the identities of the alleged victims and the accused, and also discourage future reporting of sexual assault on campus.

In a video and letter emailed to students, UK president Eli Capilouto said the university was advocating for a process to better protect victims.

“This is going to be helpful because I think it will encourage people to report, give us a greater opportunity that ensures fairness for both the accused and those that are making the allegation that we can adjudicate these cases,” he said.

Kirk rejected that, saying UK’s system for investigating sexual assaults needs transparency and public scrutiny.

“I think if anything [the ruling] continues to benefit universities whose concern seems to be dealing with a public image issue instead of actually fighting for women — not just women but all survivors of sexual assault and harassment in these cases,” she said.

This story has been updated.