More than 260 journalists have signed a petition urging the University of Minnesota to halt its investigation into the source of news leaks about an athletics department official who was accused of sexual misconduct.

A delegation from the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild delivered the petitions to the University's Board of Regents on Wednesday. "We believe that this investigation of leaks by the University is a direct attack on the First Amendment," the group said in a statement. The petition was signed by some journalists from the Star Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press, and several local TV news organizations, among others.

The Board of Regents launched the investigation after KSTP-TV reported that Randy Handel, an athletics department fundraiser, had been accused of sexual harassment, and that a confidential document about the case had been obtained from a member of the board.

The university said it has a legal obligation to keep such information, involving accusations against employees, confidential.

"The Board fully appreciates the First Amendment reasons why the media wishes to protect its sources, and has no intention of challenging its journalistic choice," said a statement released Wednesday by Board Chairman Dean Johnson and Vice Chairman David McMillan. "Those principles, however, do not excuse or give license to University officials to breach their legal duties by disclosing matters to the media that the law directs should be kept private while decisions are pending."