(Paul Chesser, Liberty Headlines) After the presidents of Atlantic Coast Conference universities decided in September to remove sports championships from North Carolina because of its now-repealed “transgender bathroom” law (House Bill 2, or HB2), Liberty Headlines sought public records that pertained to the issue from the conference’s taxpayer-funded member schools.
Most of those ACC schools denied they had any records that addressed their individual presidents’ decisions, their deliberations, or how they voted on the boycott. Previously only the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University had provided copies of communications with regard to HB2 or the boycott. This week Clemson University delivered copies of 38 separate documents that they said were pertinent to Liberty Headlines’ public records request.
Only eight of the ACC’s 15 members are taxpayer-funded institutions subject to their states’ public records laws: UNC, NC State, Clemson, Florida State University, University of Louisville, Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), University of Virginia, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). The remaining schools are private.
The fact that UNC, NC State and Clemson provided significant quantities of records belies the claims of the other member ACC universities whose representatives said they possessed no documents that were relevant to Liberty Headlines’ request:
- “The General Counsel’s office has checked with both Athletics and the President’s office and have not located any responsive records.” – Browning Brooks, Assistant Vice President for University Communications, Florida State
- “I have not identified any records responsive to your request.” – Sherri Pawson, Senior Compliance Officer, University of Louisville
- “The University has no records responsive to your request.” – Faith Hill, Freedom of Information Act Officer, University of Virginia
- “Virginia Tech has no other documents responsive to your request.” – Bobbie Jean Norris, FOIA Officer, Virginia Tech, after providing a single ACC announcement
As for Georgia Tech, Assistant Vice President for Campus Communications Lisa Grovenstein said anything that President George “Bud” Peterson did with regard to the ACC had nothing to do with the university he leads:
“Georgia Tech does not have custody or control of the records you seek. Even if Georgia Tech had possession of such records, they are not considered ‘public records’ as defined under [Georgia’s Open Records Act], because they were neither prepared nor maintained or received by Dr. Peterson in the course of performing any service to or function of his position as president of the Georgia Institute of Technology.”
These officers that handled the inquiries from Liberty Headlines, who denied the universities possessed any responsive records, lied. Records obtained from NC State and Clemson showed that at a minimum two documents — advanced notice and several other communications about the ACC’s boycott announcement on September 14th, and the formal ACC announcement — were sent to representatives of all the universities, who denied having any such records. Also records obtained from Clemson show that some of the public’s responses to the ACC boycott decision were sent to the five denying universities’ presidents.
It’s likely that Florida State, Louisville, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech have far more records they are withholding from public view, if the materials supplied by UNC, NC State and Clemson are any indication. Earlier reports, for example, showed that donors and alumni at the North Carolina universities demanded answers about how UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson voted on the ACC presidents’ decision. Complaints to those schools were plentiful after the ACC said it would remove its sports championship competitions from the Tar Heel State, which hosts the conference’s headquarters (in Greensboro).
But perhaps even more surprising was the amount of public commentary directed at South Carolina-based Clemson and its president James Clements (who was also chairman of the ACC council) following the ACC’s decision — most of which was critical. Only two of the fifteen emails received by Clemson supported the ACC’s boycott – the rest opposed it, many vigorously. A sampling (Clemson redacted the identities of the emailers):
- “Dear Jim (Clements), Your decision today is what is wrong with our Country. You are allowing a micro-segment of society dictate your direction. So, where does this stop ? You and the Presidents better give that some thought because these groups are never ‘done’ with their agenda. Once they push one item through, they immediately go to the next. There is no end game. Shame on you and the 12 Presidents for not voting what’s correct, but for voting what’s politically expedient.”
- “I will not attend the 2016 ACC Championship game in football should Clemson qualify for the game. I will make every attempt, that I can, to not support the ACC…The reason for me to not support the ACC is the ACC’s decision to remove the ACC Championship game from NC because of HB2…I have been to every home game at Clemson for years. I take my kids and family to these games. I rent Hotel rooms. I eat out when I go, I buy food, drinks, clothes etc. I AM YOUR DEMOGRAPHIC….(continued)
- “I am totally embarrassed now to be a Clemson Tiger with your statement and stance with the ACC due to the LGBT law in North Carolina. It is now clear that you are no longer guided by the Almighty but the almighty dollar….”
- “The decision the presidents of the ACC made today will forever change my mind and heart about the university that molded me into who I am today. I hope with earnestly that you (President Clements) did not vote to move the championship games from the state of NC because of HB2….”
- “As a Clemson University alumnus living in North Carolina, I was very disappointed to see your statement of support for the ACC decision to move the ACC football championship game (and other neutral sporting events) from Charlotte and the State of North Carolina. This disregards the tremendous support from ACC fans within our state. I can assure you that the citizens of North Carolina are as “inclusive and welcoming” as the citizens of South Carolina. The ACC’s actions hurt their own fans….”
- “You are so very wrong in your decision to move the ACC championship game out of NC. Just a typical PC move by a liberal bunch of gutless people. CYA all the way.” (from Syracuse, NY)
- “Hey, I was under the impression that a university president and president of the ACC was reasonable and above average in intelligence! You proved me wrong you are more akin to a flaming dumbass!!”
- “How can you move any ACC event out of N.C. because you disagree with a particular states views that differ from your bigoted view? Hypocrites … I’m from [Louisiana] & an SEC fan but y’all have dropped the ball when it comes to common sense & freedom of opposing opinion….”
- “I saw the news earlier stating the ACC is shunning North Carolina over HB 2. It’s sad to see how immoral you and the league have become. The politically correct and liberal immoral society is what is wrong with this country now. I am glad now I stopped giving to Clemson University as I see now you put immorality before God’s word. How screwed up is this society when people fight over gay rights and transgender bathrooms. You and your committee are a disgrace to the University and the league.”
- “I do not think that the conference or Clemson have any reason to get involved in this issue or frankly any other state issue. I do not know who is driving this issue other than those that want to been seen as ‘inclusionary.’ How many people are served by this law versus those impacted?”
- “I feel sure that you don’t really want some disgusting, pervert of a man in the restroom with your WIFE where he could take photos of her or worse. So why wont you let the state of North Carolina protect it’s women and children?? I’m tired of this country bowing down to the demands of a few whining liberals who get their feelings hurt if you look at them the wrong way….I get more and more disappointed with the direction of my Alma Matter (sic) every day. Please start standing up for what its right….” (Full email)
- “Why punish NC for doing the common sense thing? My daughter was in a NYC bathroom as a man peeped over the stalls watching or photographing women. This law makes sense. Your inability to have the guts to stand up for common sense don’t!”
The quantity and passion of the messages to Clemson and President Clements, who aren’t even in the targeted state of North Carolina, make it difficult to believe the ACC universities in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and Virginia did not receive similar — or at least some — blowback.
But those schools have decided they don’t have to comply with their states’ public records laws.