UK sues student paper to keep sexual harassment records secret

The University of Kentucky is suing its independent student newspaper in an effort to avoid having to turn over information requested under the state’s Open Records Act.

UK announced the lawsuit against The Kentucky Kernel Monday, The Kentucky Kernel reports, seeking judicial exemption from a previous ruling that the school must relinquish documents related to the investigation of an associate professor accused of sexual harassment.

According to the Courier-Journal, President Eli Capilouto announced the decision in an email to students, informing them that the decision to fight the request was motivated by a desire to avoid releasing the information would conflict with the university’s responsibility to protect the privacy of students, faculty, and staff.

"When we make decisions about what records we share with the public, we are guided by the values we cherish, acknowledging that sometimes the values of safeguarding the privacy of members of our community and the need for transparency in the operations of public entities such as ours can be in tension with one another," Capilouto wrote.

The Kentucky Kernel requested documents from the university regarding James Harwood, an associate professor of entomology who was investigated by the university after allegations of sexual harassment.

Despite being a public institution, UK denied the Kernel’s initial request, prompting the paper to appeal its case to the Kentucky Attorney General’s office.

Attorney General Andy Beshear released an opinion on Monday affirming that the requested records “were not shown to be protected by exemptions and privileges” under Kentucky open record laws, delivering a major blow to the university’s privacy argument.

"We find that the University of Kentucky failed to meet its burden of proof in denying the Kentucky Kernel’s response and must make immediate provision for Mr. (Kernel editor Will) Wright’s inspection and copying of the disputed records," Beshear wrote.

Editor-in-Chief Will Wright said the Attorney General’s decision reinforced what the Kernel's staff have always maintained.

"It is the university's duty to be transparent, especially in situations that concern public safety and public money,” Wright pointed out. “I hope UK will release the records rather than take this to circuit court, but I plan to follow through in any case.”

The Kentucky Kernel has long been a source of aggravation to the UK administration, extensively detailing exorbitant employee salaries in 2011, and generating controversy on campus with an op-ed written by Wright in September 2015 that dealt with Sharia and Islam.

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