OPINION: Non-disclosure agreements have no place at a public university


Anna Leachman

An example of the WKU non-disclosure agreement form.

Herald Editorial Board

WKU is a public institution, so it should only make sense that it would operate as such. However, in light of recent discoveries, it appears that it does not.

The Naming and Symbols Task Force, to quote WKU’s own website, was a group of faculty and staff from the university put together “to conduct a thorough examination of the history of WKU’s naming’s; explore options for how WKU might address those that might be problematic, and make recommendations for university leadership to consider.”

The task force was established to move the university away from building or campus symbol names “which may be connected to exclusion, segregation, racism or slavery,” by providing the university with recommendations geared toward change.

The committee has since been disbanded, but that is not what this editorial is about. The Bowling Green Daily News reported in July that the members of the task force signed non-disclosure agreements.

A non-disclosure agreement, as defined by Oxford English dictionary, is “a contract by which one or more parties agree not to disclose confidential information that they have shared with each other as a necessary part of doing business together.”

Jace Lux, director of media relations, elaborated on the committee’s signing of NDAs in a recent phone interview and notified us that WKU did not impose the agreements on to the committee.

He said the committee wanted to proceed without external pressures and have more genuine conversations.

It is good to know WKU didn’t force the members of the committee into signing NDAs, but that doesn’t change the ethicality of the situation.

In fact, it has recently been brought to our attention that this decision may be in violation of the Open Meetings Act, which requires the meetings of public institutions to be accessible. These NDAs may be just as illegal as they are unethical, but more on that in another story.

As stated before, WKU is a public university, meaning it is primarily funded by the state government. This means that the university must oblige Kentucky state laws on transparency and public information. If that is so, then why did a WKU formed committee sign non-disclosure agreements on matters which should be considered public affairs? Legality aside, this decision goes against the very definition of a public university and what it should stand for.

We learned from Lux that the NDAs were not imposed on the committee by WKU, that doesn’t change the fact that the Naming and Symbols Task Force was established by President Timothy Caboni and was made up of faculty and staff from the university.

It was in no way separate from WKU, and the task force dealt with matters that directly affect the university’s appearance, population and all that surrounds it.

WKU should have prevented the committee members from signing non-disclosure agreements, not only because they were unethical and potentially illegal in this scenario, but as a due diligence to their status as a public university.

We get the fact that the committee wanted to operate in an environment without pressure, but with the gravity of the matters that they were dealing with, the public deserved to know the contents of their discussions.

As a result of their decision to sign NDA’s, we will never know the full scope of the Naming and Symbols Task Force, a committee that probably meant a lot to the underrepresented population of WKU.

NDA’s should not be present in any committee formed by a public university, no matter what the purpose of the group is. The Naming and Symbols Task Force had an immense amount of gravity in its work but the principle should still apply to any group the university forms.

Therefore we pose the question: Why is a public university allowing for the signage of non-disclosure agreements in committee’s dealing with public affairs?