Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear is officially intervening in a lawsuit Western Kentucky University has brought against its own student newspapers. Moving forward, he will be directly involved as an intervening plaintiff.
The dispute is over university records on sexual misconduct investigations. WKU’s student newspapers have called for the school to release the investigations, but WKU argues that doing so would infringe on the survivors’ right to privacy. Beshear himself requested the documents, but the university refused to hand them over, which the AG declared a violation the Open Records Act. Due to a legal quirk that prevents the school from suing the Attorney General, WKU is suing the student newspapers to appeal Beshear’s decision.
It’s a complicated case, and not just legally. The university’s misconduct investigations found six employees at fault, but all had retired or resigned before they faced disciplinary action or even public accusation. Such a low-profile response to serious abuses of power definitely seems like a self-serving move for the school, but WKU’s concerns that releasing such documents could compromise the identities of the victims is a really valid one. Even with names and details redacted, it wouldn’t be hard for the public to figure out their identities. This piece lays out some of the complications in a similar case, reporting that some alleged victims support the school’s lawsuit.
Protecting survivors’ privacy is vitally important, and I agree with WKU that public attention could discourage victims from stepping forward. But as this op-ed from the embattled student newspaper shows, the school has failed to foster an environment where survivors would step forward to begin with, and it’s hard not to see WKU’s timid investigations as contributing. I really don’t know what the best outcome of the lawsuit would be, because, either way, it’s a raw deal for those affected most.
(Image: Western Kentucky University. Courtesy: Wikipedia.org)