Private meeting between Gora and legislators raises right to know questions
- Under Indiana’s Open Door Law, most official government meetings must be open to the public.
- A university media law professor said Ball State’s meeting with lawmakers about intelligent design falls under a gray area.
- The Student Government Association president said she hopes information about the meeting will be made public.
Ball State’s decision to meet in private with lawmakers to discuss concerns about teaching intelligent design is raising questions with some students and professors.
Dom Caristi, a professor of telecommunications, said Indiana’s Open Door Law dictates how accessible official government meetings must be, as well as those involving state employees. He said Thursday’s planned meeting between lawmakers and university officials falls into a gray area within this code.
Indiana code 5-14-1.5, called the Open Door Law, states that the official action of public agencies be conducted and taken openly. This is to ensure that people are able to fully be informed, according to the code.
However, when meetings are not directly discussing official code or if they are about a personnel matter, meetings can be closed to the public. A meeting can similarly receive exemption if people involved are not representing their constituent groups, such as a district’s population or a university’s students.
“If they don’t represent [constituents], then it should be equivalent to going out to coffee,” Caristi said. “The question is … do a few legislators talking to a few university officials represent a governing body?”
He said the case could be made that Thursday’s meeting should be open to the public, per the code. The meeting regards concerns from four legislators who sent a letter to the university March 10. The four requested Ball State make more information public about the handling of accusations that professor Eric Hedin taught intelligent design in an honors colloquium.
Instead of releasing information, Ball State officials invited the legislators who authored the letter — Dennis Kruse, Senate Education Committee chair, Sen. Travis Holdman, Sen. Greg Walker and Rep. Jeffrey Thompson — to visit campus to discuss the matter in person.
“My colleagues welcome this opportunity to meet with you and discuss these important issues,” President Jo Ann Gora wrote in the letter to the legislators sent March 18.
Three of the legislators have agreed to meet, said Joan Todd, a university spokesperson, though she wouldn’t release the names of the three.
A representative for Kruse said it is too early to comment on a potential meeting or his feelings about making the meeting private.
Chloe Anagnos, Student Government Association president, said she understands the university’s decision to meet in private. However, she said she hopes the issues discussed will be made public after the meeting so students can know what actions the legislators and university officials took.
“I am just curious to see what all goes on,” she said. “Hopefully, they will answer some questions.”
She also said the SGA executive board meets today and will most likely discuss what the board’s role in the meeting will be, if any.
“Usually, anything the university is up to, we try to have our hands in,” she said.
The SGA executive board could decide to post an online forum to more accurately judge student views on the controversy, she said.