The State Board of Education’s consideration around the University of Phoenix was anything but open and transparent. The Board kept every detail regarding the transaction secret until the very last moment, denying the people of Idaho a fair and full opportunity to speak on a matter of great importance to the State.
An Ada County District Court held that the Board was justified in keeping the Phoenix transaction away from public scrutiny so long as the Board merely had a “reasonable belief” that it was facing competition from another public university. This “reasonable belief” legal standard is found nowhere in the law and will greatly weaken Open Meetings Law in Idaho. The court imposed no affirmative duty on the Board, not even requiring the Board or its counsel to ask a single question to confirm whatever belief they formed. And, the court denied the Attorney General discovery into the question of actual competition. Respectfully, the Attorney General believes the District Court incorrectly interpreted and applied the Open Meetings Law.
“The law requires much more of its officials than the District Court required, and it provides much greater protection to the public than the District Court gave,” said Attorney General Raúl Labrador. “The District Court’s ruling will lead to far less government transparency and accountability. That is bad for Idaho citizens, and it defies the entire purpose of the law. We are looking closely at all appellate options to ensure Idaho’s Open Meetings Law remains a bulwark for openness and government accountability.”
The Board kept every detail regarding the transaction secret until the very last moment, denying the people of Idaho or its elected representatives a fair and full opportunity to weigh in. Here, the Board decided to purchase the University of Phoenix for nearly $700 million, even though the University of Phoenix has been repeatedly fined for deceptive and unfair practices and forced to repay hundreds of millions of dollars to forgive student-loan money—most recently agreeing to a record $191 million settlement. The last time the University of Idaho participated in an ambitious backroom deal without proper public accountability, it resulted in numerous lawsuits, damage to the credibility of the institution, and substantial financial losses to the University.