Penn State files to keep records under wraps
Madison, Wis. – Penn State University filed papers this week to keep records related to its Sandusky investigation from becoming public.
Writing that the release of some emails sent to trustees would cause “substantial harm,” univeristy lawyers intervened in an appeal that challenged a decision by the Department of Education to withhold some records under the Right-to-Know Law.
The records at the center of the appeal contain an array of information about how Penn State’s leaders handled the Sandusky scandal. They include a series of emails discussing the establishment of the Special Investigative Task Force and the hiring of Louis J. Freeh; communication about the NCAA’s and Big Ten Conference’s role in the investigation; and banter about records leaked to the media just before Freeh issued his report.
The filing marks Penn State’s entrance into a battle over the release of records sent to former secretary of education Ron Tomalis, who co-chaired the Board of Trustees committee that oversaw Louis J. Freeh’s investigation. The Commonwealth Court ruled in July that records sent to Tomalis in his capacity as a member of the Board of Trustees are subject to the RTKL. Penn State stayed out of that fight.
In the wake of the July ruling, alumnus Ryan Bagwell asked for records sent to Tomalis from Louis Freeh, Ken Frazier, and former trustees Steve Garban and John Surma. The Department of Education released some records, but withheld 155 others that it argues are exempt from disclosure.
Bagwell appealed to the Office of Open Records, which agreed to review the records to determine if they are exempt from disclosure. On Monday, Penn State asked to participate in the appeal. Its request was granted yesterday.
“The university’s action is rife with hypocrisy,” Bagwell said. “For decades, Penn State has fought attempts to bring it under the auspices of the Right-to-Know Law. Now, it’s demanding the same protection from disclosure that it would enjoy if it were actually subject to the law. Trustees pledged transparency when the Sandusky scandal broke. But as soon as we get closer to understanding what went on behind the scenes, the university tries to slam the door in the face of its most important constituency.”
“Penn State’s leaders can’t have it both ways. It’s time for the Board of Trustees and administrators to grow up and decide what they to be – a model of transparent governance or a group that believes in secrecy above all else.”
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