Western Kentucky University sues its student newspaper

Published: Mar. 1, 2017 at 5:28 PM CST
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A lawsuit filed by Western Kentucky University against its own student newspaper, reveals the school conducted 20 Sexual Misconduct Investigations among its employees in the past four years.

The six people who were found in violation, either retired or resigned from their positions before they could be reprimanded by the university.

The College Heights Herald says the point of filing the open records request is not so much about the victims, but about how the university handles these cases. Making sure the victims get the justice they deserve.

In the lawsuit, one of the reasons listed by Western Kentucky University, for not releasing the records of the sexual misconduct investigations is because they're still in the draft stages.

"The state records law allows them to maintain secrecy when it comes to work. I think the question that I would be asking Western Kentucky is, Are you going to continue to pursue these investigations? If the answer to that is no, then to me, they're no longer drafts. They're done," Professor in the Journalism and Broadcasting School, Mac McKerral said.

The Kentucky Attorney General ordered that WKU release the records, but with the names redacted. Under state law, the university has to comply or appeal the opinion, meaning suing the College Heights Herald.

"To recognize that we may have to have some restraint here, but that restraint has to be very, very narrow, because you're dealing with public issues and public matters," McKerral said.

The Herald's biggest question?

"Will there be future victims affected by these professors. If they're being allowed to kind of go under the rug, not have their name named, not be reprimanded publicly, then they can just go off," the College Heights Herald's Digital Managing Editor, Nicole Ares said.

Without the records, the public does not know if those professors are at another university.

"You're talking about a serious public safety issue. And so, the question becomes, How much weight does privacy carry and how much weight does the public have a right to know, with regard to their own safety,' McKerral said.

In the lawsuit, WKU claims that the information in the records, isn't of "legitimate interest to the public."

"Any tax paying citizen, any university official, student, employee, professor, would like to know about this. Would like to know how their tax dollars are being spent at public universities, would like to know how university officials are dealing with these cases," Ares said.

"Any type of sexual assault investigation or sexual misconduct investigation are of interest to the public. And it's our duty as a newspaper to hold the university accountable and to push them to be as transparent as possible," College Heights Herald's Editor-In-Chief, Lashana Harney said.

One journalism professor believes the status of their employment doesn't make a difference in this case.

"Whether or not those individuals continued to work at Western, whether they left under their own accord, whether they retired, makes little difference. The incidents occurred. They were investigated. And so for the University to say, 'Well they're not here anymore, so, let's pretend this didn't happen,' is pretty silly," McKerral added.

In a statement released to 13 News on Wednesday, the University says its issue is with the Attorney General's decision, for them to release their records, and not the College Heights Herald.

The full statement from Western Kentucky University is attached.