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Question Submitted by: Mr. E. T. Dunlap, Chancellor, Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education
1981 OK AG 135
Oklahoma Attorney General
Cite as: 1981 OK AG 135, __ __
¶0 The Attorney General is in receipt of your request for an official opinion of this office, wherein you ask the following question:
“Is the governing board of a college or university permitted to hold an executive session for the purpose of hearing evidence and discussing the expulsion of a student or a matter relating to a student’s eligibility for the conferral of a college degree from the institution or of hearing an appeal by the student to the governing board of a decision made by the faculty and/or president of the college regarding his/her eligibility for graduation?”
¶1 The Open Meeting Law, 25 O.S. 301 (1977) et seq., closely regulates “executive sessions” of public bodies in 25 O.S. 307, which states in pertinent part:
“No public body shall hold executive sessions unless otherwise specifically provided for herein.
“Executive sessions of public bodies will be permitted only for the purpose of discussing the employment, hiring, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining or resignation of any individual salaried public officer or employee; or by district board,s of education for the purpose of hearing evidence and discussing the expulsion or suspension of a student when requested by the student involved or his parent, attorney or legal guardian and for the purpose of discussing negotiations concerning employees and representatives of employee groups. Provided, however, that any vote or action thereon must be taken in public meeting with the vote of each member publicly cast and recorded. . .”
¶2 The clear unambiguous statement of legislative policy in 25 O.S. 307 is that no executive sessions of any kind, for any reason shall be held except as expressly permitted by statute. The authority of a governing board of an institution of higher education to conduct an executive session on a matter of student discipline must rest on some specific permissive language in the Open Meeting Law, more particularly 307. The only portion of 307, or for that matter the entire Open Meeting Law, which addresses executive session for student disciplinary hearings is expressly referenced to “district boards of education”. The term is a plain reference to the governing boards of dependent and independent school districts which operate the common schools of this State. 70 O.S. 5-106(1971). We would conclude, from the absence of express authorization for executive sessions by governing boards of institutions of higher education in matters of student discipline, that no such authority exists.
¶3 Our conclusions herein are consistent with the most recent court decisions in Oklahoma and other jurisdictions. In Carl v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma, Okl., 577 P.2d 912 (1978), the Oklahoma Supreme Court in construing the prior Oklahoma Open Meeting Law, 25 O.S. 201 (1971) et seq., repealed Laws 1977, c. 214, expressly held meetings of the Admissions Board of the College of Medicine could not be in executive session. The Court 80 held even though the Admissions Board considered highly personal information of applicants for admission to the College of Medicine.
¶4 See also Greene v. Athletic Council of Iowa State University, Iowa, 251 N.W.2d 559 (1977), where the Iowa Court held a joint faculty, alumni and student group subject to the open meetings provisions of Iowa law. The Athletic Council in Greene, supra, was responsible for awarding letter, scholarships and awards. This Council had the power to withdraw scholarships for violations of University policy or scholarship terms.
¶5 It is, therefore, the official opinion of the Attorney General that the governing boards of state operated institutions of higher education may not hold executive sessions to hear evidence and discuss student disciplinary matters which may come before it.
JAN ERIC CARTWRIGHT
ATTORNEY GENERAL OF OKLAHOMA
JOHN F. PERCIVAL
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL