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UI Settles Lawsuit Alleging Violations Of Open Meetings Law

John Pemble/IPR file
The University of Iowa has settled a lawsuit alleging school representatives violated open meetings laws in the process of selecting Bruce Harreld as university president.

The University of Iowa is settling a lawsuit alleging it violated open meetings laws during a 2015 search for its current president. 

Under the settlement, the school is not admitting it did anything wrong, but the university is paying $55,000 in attorney’s fees, and agreeing to be more transparent in the future, including notifying the public of meetings, livestreaming open portions of the meetings online, and making the videos available online for 90 days. 

In a written statement, UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said it's time for both parties to move on.

"This settlement is the result of a good-faith effort to resolve the dispute, and we believe it is in the best interests of all involved to move forward," Beck's statement read.

Retired UI biology professor John Menninger brought the complaint, which was initiated by professor Harold Hammond in 2015. The case floundered after Hammond passed away, until Menninger revived the complaints in a second case.

Menninger and Hammond alleged the UI's presidential search committee improperly closed meetings to the public and met privately out of state, in violation of Iowa's open meetings laws.

Under the settlement, members of future search committee members will be expressly notified they are subject to the state's open meetings law and will recieve training on the legal requirements. 

Menninger said the specific requirements laid out in the settlement make him optimistic that future committees will operate their searches openly, in compliance with Iowa law and with the state Board of Regents' own procedures.

“It’s a good thing that they’re going to follow their own procedures in the future. Of course I’m aware that they’re in complete control of their procedures and can change them at any time," Menninger said. "But it seems that they’re pledging a precedent here. And we'll see how the next search goes.”

The 2015 search process led to the controversial selection of businessman Bruce Harreld as the school’s president, despite criticism from faculty members, students and staff. The appointment of the former IBM executive, with no experience as an academic administrator, enraged many on campus.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter