University of Southern California
Rossier School of Education Excellence in Higher Education
Bruce Johnstone
University Professor of Higher & Comparative Education,

Mary Burgan
Former General Secretary
American Association of University Professors

Ellen Chaffee  
Valley City State University

Tom Ingram
Association of Governing Boards

David Ward 
American Council on Education




Governance Roundtable

James Hearn
Professor of Higher Education
Vanderbilt University

Governing in the Sunshine: The Impact of State Open-Meetings and Record Laws on Decision-Making in Higher Education

State open-meetings and records laws, often colloquially termed “sunshine” laws, affect public higher-education systems in numerous ways. Perhaps most visibly, the laws shape the governance activities of institutional boards and high-level campus leaders. Since their beginnings in the 1970s and 1980s, the laws have become an institutionalized element in public higher-education governance in most states. Unfortunately, however, the laws have only rarely been investigated systematically. With funding from the Association of Governing Boards and the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at the University of Southern California, we have conducted a comprehensive review of the existing literature on these laws and are now beginning an analysis of the current status of these laws using case data from six selected states plus data from a recent national governance survey. The ideal outcomes of the project will include improved understanding of sunshine laws’ influences on higher-education governance plus recommendations for future revisions and implementations of the laws. Because data-gathering for the project is still ongoing, this paper does not provide results of the project’s empirical work. Instead, the paper reviews existing literature on the laws, discusses the characteristics, dimensions, and variations of laws currently in place across the nation, considers aspects of the laws deemed by observers harmful or beneficial to effective governance, and describes several potential changes in the laws. The paper concludes with cautions regarding the complexity of ascertaining the laws’ benefits, costs, and ultimate effects.




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