UCONN Board of Trustees violated state Freedom of Information Act

By Mitchell W. Pearlman

The state Freedom of Information Commission ruled the University of Connecticut Board of Trustees violated the state Freedom of Information Act when it held an executive session to discuss the school’s proposed budget.

The Board of Trustees argued that a public discussion of the budget, and how scarce university resources would be allocated, would “not serve the public interest.” Therefore they argued that they were justified in having a session in which they could ask tough questions about eliminating academic programs or certain sports programs, reducing financial aid, or restructuring employee benefits, without the public being present.

The Hearing Officer, however, rejected that argument, saying that none of the reasons given by the board were proper under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Hearing Officer’s Report states that “budget workshop” of the Trustee’s four-member financial affairs committee was held in executive session. A total of 33 people actually attended the session, including 14 trustees and 19 senior administration officials, including the school’s president, chief of staff, provost, chief financial officer, general counsel, and director of athletics.

The Commission accepted last month, hearing officer Lisa Fein Siegel’s report rejecting UConn’s legal argument that the financial affairs committee could close its meeting to the public to prevent the disclosure of detailed financial drafts.