The university’s main governing body, the Board of Regents, meets four times a year to discuss and vote on university business. The board, which consists of 11 regents—one faculty member, one staff member, the student body president and eight governor-appointed representatives—essentially oversee the university’s operations.
The Board’s meetings, typically held on campus, are open to the public; meaning anyone who wishes to sit in and listen to the Board members discuss the university’s affairs is free and welcome to do so.
Earlier this year, however, President Benson announced that the Board would hit the road for its meeting in October, traveling 70 miles southeast to Hazard. Eastern oversees the nearby Lilley Cornett Woods, a 550-acre forest in Letcher County that serves as a hub for ecological and environmental research. Benson said the trip to Hazard would afford the Board of Regents the opportunity to meet with community officials and mark the beginning of the university’s project to construct a research center at the forest.
The Eastern Progress, however, takes issue with this move and has filed an appeal with the Attorney General’s office.
It’s not that we’re against forests. It’s not that we’re against the Board visiting the Lilley Cornett Woods or witnessing what’s in the works there. And it’s not that we’re against the occasional road trip.
What we are against, however, is that the Board is holding one of its quarterly meetings so far away that it makes it difficult for any students, faculty or staff to attend. The argument that The Progress made to the Attorney General’s office is that Eastern is a state school, and as such, its governing meetings, according to state open records laws, are supposed to be open and “convenient to the public.”
We believe the nearly two-hour drive to Hazard is too far for most people to be expected to make, particularly on a Monday, when the meeting is scheduled. Important meetings—and we believe meetings that are scheduled just four times a year qualify as important—should be held where its convenient for the greatest number of people to attend. Otherwise, what’s the point of an open meeting?
Of course, Kentucky’s statutes are not entirely clear on this matter. The law allows for governing boards at state universities to meet “at the institution or at such other place as agreed upon.”
This would seem to suggest that meetings may be conducted away from the university, but that’s as far as the language goes. The law makes no mention of distance or convenience or anything that might indicate where or how far a governing board may travel.
The Progress hopes the Attorney General will offer some clarity on the law’s intentions.