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UNC-Chapel Hill a finalist for national “most secretive public agency” award

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a finalist for a dubious national honor — an award recognizing the most secretive public agency or official in the country

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Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) announced the five finalists for its annual Golden Padlock Award this week. UNC-Chapel Hill made the list for
“a pattern of secrecy that includes paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight cases involving open meetings law violations and the disclosure of documents detailing campus sexual assault cases.”

IRE also cited the school’s investigation of its own faculty over a leaked donor agreement, a story first reported by Policy Watch last August.

From IRE’s announcement:

“This year, the university targeted a coalition of its own journalism faculty after members filed formal requests seeking the university’s donor agreement with Walter Hussman, an Arkansas media magnate who gave $25 million to the journalism school and who also lobbied against the university’s hiring of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. The university rejected efforts to release the donor agreement for months, and after it was leaked to a reporter, officials launched an investigation into the source of the leak. As the school was renamed in Hussman’s honor and faculty members pushed for details, records released earlier this year showed the university attempted to access data on the hard drives of faculty without their knowledge. The names of those journalism faculty members, and the rationale for accessing their computers, was redacted.”

Other finalists for the award include the Arizona Senate, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Utah’s Department of Corrections and the City of Huntsville, Alabama and its police department.

The winner will be announced at the  IRE22 conference on Saturday, June 25, in Denver, Colorado.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s inclusion on IRE’s roll of dishonor is the latest in a series of public black eyes for the university.

In late April, the American Association of University Professors released a scathing report on the UNC System that could lead to sanction by the national group. The report’s sections on UNC-Chapel Hill focused on some of the same controversies cited by IRE.

Earlier this month, a national accrediting group officially downgraded the accreditation of the university’s journalism school, citing diversity and governance issues.

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UNC-Chapel Hill a finalist for national “most secretive public agency” award