Chancellor Rebecca Blank apologized for her email correspondence with Big Ten leaders last summer that suggested moving communications to the network’s private platform amid COVID-19 discussions for the fall semester.
The University of Wisconsin System is reviewing the matter after learning about it last week, according to a spokesperson.
“I regret the language I used in my email exchange with other Big Ten chancellors, which appears as though I intended to use the Big Ten board portal to skirt my public records responsibilities,” said Blank in a statement to the Wisconsin State Journal Tuesday.
Blank’s apology follows an article published Friday that details emails obtained by The Washington Post through public records requests, outlining Blank’s desires to keep discussions private after University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel asked to confidentially compare notes about COVID-19 on the universities’ campuses. This apology comes in contrast to what UW-Madison told the Washington Post last week when a spokesperson then stated that Blank is “mindful” of the open records law.
“We learned of the scope of this matter late last week and are still assessing any need for confidentiality in these communications,” said an anonymous UW System spokesperson in an email to Channel 3000. “In general, however, UW System considers written communications used to conduct public business as records to be disclosed and is reviewing the matter.”
The Board will be reviewing a message from Blank that stated, “I would be delighted to share information, but perhaps we can do this through the Big 10 portal, which will assure confidentiality?” The Board recognizes that this move of secrecy directly violates the public’s right to access all governmental information and correspondence, a right that applies to UW-Madison as it is funded by the state.
Nasdaq Boardvantage — the third party platform used by Big Ten — allows users to communicate and share meeting materials securely. Open records requests sent to involved universities for the conversations conducted through this platform were denied.
Public records experts were alarmed by what seemed like an attempt to escape public scrutiny, seeing that the Big Ten contains a wealth of top-tier and influential universities.
“It’s clearly illegal for her to use this backdoor channel to conduct the public’s business,” said Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, to the Wisconsin State Journal on Monday.