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AG To Intervene In UK’s Lawsuit Against Its Student Newspaper

andy beshear

Attorney General Andy Beshear is trying to join a student newspaper in its defense against the University of Kentucky, which is suing the paper over an open records request dealing with sexual assault allegations against a professor.

UK has denied the records, citing federal law that requires the university to keep the identity of sexual assault victims confidential.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Beshear said the school has taken an “irresponsible position” in withholding the records and refusing to allow the attorney general to review the documents.

“UK’s lawsuit would create a silver bullet that would allow any bad actor to entirely avoid open records laws,” Beshear said. “What does it say that the institutions that we trust to educate our kids, that are supposed to push for high ideals, seek knowledge and search for the truth are the ones that are hiding it?”

The Kentucky Kernel has requested that UK release investigation documents dealing with an associate professor who resigned from the school earlier this year.

After the university refused to release the records, the student newspaper appealed the denial to the attorney general, who ordered the school to release the documents with identifying information redacted.

UK appealed that decision, suing the newspaper in Fayette Circuit Court.

In a statement, university spokesman Jay Blanton said that the school believes the records should be withheld to protect the confidentiality and privacy of sexual assault survivors "who muster the tremendous courage it takes to come forward with accusations of criminal acts.”

“We believe strongly that to allow anyone – the press, a member of our university community, an employer, or any private citizen – to access confidential records will have a chilling impact on the willingness of survivors to come forward," Blanton said. "We continue to be very disappointed that the Office of the Attorney General disagrees. But the decision of the Office to attempt to intervene in this case does further clarify that our dispute is not with the Kentucky Kernel, but with the Office of Attorney General."

Blanton said the university will await a decision by a court of law "to determine who is right."

Last month, the Kernel obtained the withheld documents dealing with the investigation, though the university wouldn’t confirm their authenticity.

The records detailed a seven-month long investigation of James Harwood, an associate professor in the Entomology department at UK. The report included complaints from two students who alleged they were sexually assaulted by Harwood during conferences related to work or school. Two other students testified they and another student were inappropriately touched by Harwood, but didn’t make formal complaints

The newspaper says the charges were never given a formal hearing and Harwood was allowed to resign instead.

This story has been updated. 

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. Email Ryland at rbarton@lpm.org.