University declines release of documents to newspaper

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Southeast Missourian's request for internal correspondence has also been denied.

Should an ongoing NCAA investigation into Southeast Missouri State's women's basketball program allow the university to withhold documents requested by the Southeast Missourian or any member of the public?

"If it's a violation of the state's public records law, no," said Stacey Osburn, the NCAA's associate director for public and media relations. "It depends what the case is in that state. Public records laws vary by state."

The Southeast Missourian on Jan. 18 requested from the university correspondence between parents of women's basketball players to the university administrators during the four years B.J. Smith directed the program. The newspaper also requested internal correspondence related to a 2003 report following the university's internal investigation into the program.

The university declined to release the documents, citing three reasons. Art Wallhausen, associate to university president Dr. Kenneth Dobbins and the university's custodian of records, replied in an e-mail that the university was concerned the information was "part of students' records, which are prohibited from disclosure from FERPA," was part of employees' personnel records, was "part of the ongoing NCAA investigation which we have already told the Missourian we would not disclose until after the receipt of the NCAA's final ruling," or all of the above.

The Missourian last winter requested several documents related to the women's basketball program, which has been under investigation since Dobbins asked the Ohio Valley Conference's commissioner's office to look into possible NCAA violations last January. The NCAA joined the investigation in February. The university released documents in early March, including the 2003 report on the women's basketball program that showed a minor violation (the inappropriate use of a laundry machine) among a handful of allegations that could not be substantiated. The newspaper also obtained other data, including the coaching staff's phone records and recruiting travelogues, under the request.

However, university officials at that time would not disclose internal communications between members of the women's basketball coaching staff, athletic director Don Kaverman and other administrators. A university official said in March that the correspondences didn't exist due to a recent change in the university's electronic mail system. Dobbins acknowledged June 30, when he announced the results of the OVC's preliminary report and the sanctions Southeast was imposing on itself, that correspondences did exist and copies had been provided to the NCAA. Some of those documents may include information that played a part in Dobbins' decision to request the investigation from the OVC office. He said those documents would be made available when the NCAA investigation concluded, which at that point seemed to be August, university officials believed.

But the investigation continues.

Since the 2006-07 school year started, Southeast placed Smith on paid leave and ultimately announced his resignation on Dec. 6 in a joint statement with the coach.

The university referred questions about its decision not to release the documents to attorney John Grimm.

Grimm said Sunday, "Based on the research we've done, we feel our position is appropriate."

Jean Maneke, the legal consultant for the Missouri Press Association, also believed the university could not use the ongoing NCAA investigation as a reason to withhold documents since the NCAA is a private institution. She added that the 1991 ruling in Bauer vs. Kincaid in the U.S. District Court in the Southern Division of Missouri showed that FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, did not prevent all records related to students from being disclosed.

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