University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler said Friday that he supports a Board of Regents investigation to find out who leaked information about a sexual harassment case against a top athletics department official.

“We’re always concerned if there’s private data that’s inappropriately released to the public,” Kaler said in his first comments on the issue.

The 12 regents and university employees who had access to the confidential e-mail that was leaked were asked Thursday to sign affidavits stating they did not share it or its contents with reporters or anyone else.

On Friday, all of the regents signed. The board also has said it will hire outside counsel and experts to conduct a forensic investigation of electronic communications of people who had access to the e-mail.

Kaler said Friday that the investigation of associate athletic director Randy Handel’s behavior toward a co-worker might not have been made public, depending on the discipline, if it weren’t for the media leak.

“Depending on the outcome of the investigation, there are rules about what is made public,” he said. “It depends on the discipline. It depends on if there are findings. So there is a spectrum of information that we can release when the investigation is done.”

Last year, U officials didn’t investigate a leaked 80-page Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) report that detailed a sexual assault investigation involving several football players because they couldn’t narrow the possible sources for it, Kaler said.

“In this particular case, the reporter reports that the information was received from a regent,” Kaler said. “That’s a pretty direct line. And I think the board is concerned about finding out what happened.

The current EOAA investigation found Handel, the Gophers’ top fundraiser, to be in violation of the school’s sexual harassment policy.

Kaler said he expects the investigation to be finished in a matter of weeks, not months.

News of the probe was first reported Wednesday night by KSTP-TV, which cited an unnamed regent as a source. The next morning, incensed by the leak, the regents met behind closed doors and agreed to launch an investigation to determine who provided an internal e-mail to the TV station.

Attempts to reach Handel over the past two days have been unsuccessful. The nature of his violation has not been disclosed, and the U placed him on paid leave Tuesday.

Kaler on Friday would not comment on the specifics of the alleged incident or investigation, citing “private personnel matters.”

“Any time you have a leak of personal personnel information, there’s potential for litigation,” Kaler said.

Later in the day, the regents called an unscheduled closed-door meeting to discuss matters that have “potential for litigation,” according to the resolution they posted.

David McMillan, the board’s vice chairman, said of the leak: “We’re moving to resolve this as fast as we can. … This goes to the question of the integrity of the Board of Regents.”

Board Chairman Dean Johnson said Thursday the board strives to “act professionally and ethically, and to maintain privacy and other legal expectations.

“It is greatly disappointing that we are faced with the potential that a member of the university community may have betrayed the public’s trust,” he added. “That’s why members of the board believe strongly that we need to investigate any potential leaks of private and confidential information We will get to the bottom of this and take necessary action as we become aware of the facts.”

 

Staff writer Mary Lynn Smith contributed to this report.