Is UW Violating Open Meetings Law?

Maybe not, but they’re sure Roger Rabbitgaming it.

Like other public entities, the University of Washington must comply with the Open Public Meetings Act, which says public officials aren’t allowed to conduct the public’s business in secret or closed sessions.  Certain exceptions are allowed, such as executive sessions for dealing with sensitive personnel matters.

Washington’s public colleges are governed by a president and board of regents.  Regent meetings are supposed to be open to the public.  All except Evergreen College have a practice of getting together over dinner before formal business meetings.  College business is discussed at these events, and while universities in other states have gotten in trouble under their open meetings laws for closing such affairs to the public, the U.W. and other Washington public colleges have decided not to pretend these meetings are just social gatherings from which the public can be excluded under an OPMA exception.  But U.W.’s compliance is grudging to the point of implying bad faith:

1.  The dinner meetings are held at President Michael Young’s official university residence, located 2 miles from campus.

2.  Although U.W. announces the meetings ahead of time, it doesn’t provide the address, which is not well-known to the public, making the meeting location hard to find.

3.  The dining area used for the meetings is roped off, and the public must observe from an adjacent room, through an open doorway, making it difficult to see and hear.  Observers are kept behind the rope by a university cop stationed at the doorway.

4.  The observer room doesn’t have wheelchair access; the public must climb stairs to access it, which probably is an ADA* violation, according to lawyers familiar with the relevant laws.  (*Americans with Disabilities Act)

5.  No seating is provided for observers.  If they want to observe, they must stand through the entire 2 or 3 hour dinner.

Even if the U.W. president and regents are technically complying with the law, it sure looks like they don’t want the public there.  Oh, and who’s paying for the (presumably catered) food?

Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act, found in Chapter 42.30 RCW, is here:


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