The Washington Post is reporting that Big Ten university leaders used a third-party “portal” to keep secret what would otherwise be public communications about whether the football season should resume.
As Why Don’t We Know reported in Season 1, Episode 6, these portals are becoming increasingly more popular among universities and other public government entities seeking to avoid sunshine laws.
The Post used public records laws to obtain emails where the portal was referenced. For example, Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank wrote one email where she said, “perhaps we can do this through the Big 10 portal, which will assure confidentiality?”
Blank’s spokesperson told the Post that she “communicates with her fellow Big Ten presidents and chancellors in multiple ways, but is mindful of her responsibilities under Wisconsin’s public records laws. In the discussion in question, her intent was to move the conversation out of a long, reply-all email string and onto the Big Ten’s secure collaboration platform.”
There’s actually no reason to believe that using a “portal” to send messages is a legally valid workaround to escape state freedom-of-information laws. In fact, Florida State University tried to argue that in a 2009 court case and the courts forced them to hand over the documents anyway.