MISSOULA, Mont. | The Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education has reaffirmed its refusal to release records to author Jon Krakauer detailing its actions after a disciplinary committee found a University of Montana athlete guilty of rape and ordered him expelled from school in 2012.
In fact, the commissioner’s office won’t confirm that such records even exist.
The office submitted its legal response in Lewis and Clark County District Court on Saturday, again denying Krakauer’s request for documents relating to Grizzlies quarterback Jordan Johnson.
A UM disciplinary committee found Johnson guilty of rape and ordered him expelled from school in 2012. Johnson was never expelled and later was found not guilty of the rape in Missoula County District Court.
Kevin McRae, deputy commissioner for communications with the office, said Tuesday that both state and federal law prohibits the Montana University System from releasing records relating to students.
“This whole issue boils down to, if there were such records as those requested by Mr. Krakauer – or any student – both federal and state law expressly prohibit us from releasing those records,” McRae said.
In his initial request, Krakauer asked the commissioner’s office for permission to “inspect or obtain” copies of records detailing its actions in July and August 2012, shortly after a UM disciplinary committee found Johnson guilty and ordered him expelled.
On Feb. 12, Krakauer filed his complaint in Lewis and Clark Country District Court, where he asked Judge Kathy Seeley to order the document’s release. He said all other matters in the case had been made public, and he gave the commissioner’s office until March 26 to respond.
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The commissioner’s office argued then – and again in its District Court response – that such records are protected by the Family Rights and Privacy Act.
“We have reiterated those points,” said McRae. “It doesn’t matter who the student is. The very nature of the material (Krakauer) requested, if it existed, under both state and federal law we cannot provide it without that student’s consent.”
In his petition, Krakauer further argued that all other records relating to Johnson’s case have been opened, including a file unsealed by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen.
Krakauer believes the file contains the proceedings of the UM disciplinary committee that presided over Johnson’s initial rape charge.
But the names in that record were redacted and the commissioner’s office said one can only assume – but cannot prove – that they related to Johnson’s disciplinary proceedings.
“(The commissioner’s office) believes that the statements concerning Jon Krakauer’s status, accomplishments and current project are not relevant, self-serving, and do not require a response,” the office’s response reads in part.
Krakauer, author of “Into Thin Air” and “Under the Banner of Heaven,” among other books, is working on a book that deals, in part, with how UM and the commissioner’s office resolved the complaint by a student alleging Johnson raped her in early 2012.
Krakauer’s attorney, Mike Meloy, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.