Pennsylvania State University may have limited liability exposure as far as potential lawsuits stemming from the sexual assault allegations go. That’s because, thanks to a legal technicality, although the world certainly sees the institution as a state school, it’s not really a state school.

According to a piece by Michael McDonald in Bloomberg News:

While the university in State College is a land-grant school and gets annual appropriations, it isn’t part of the state’s higher-education system and is immune from disclosure laws that apply to public records.

Penn State is considered a so-called state-related school and gets taxpayer support through the Legislature…. The University of Pittsburgh, as well as Temple University and Lincoln University, both in Philadelphia, have similar ties to the commonwealth. Some states have strict liability- limiting statutes that protect government agencies against lawsuits, in contrast to private nonprofit corporations.

What laws actually apply here is unclear.

It appears, however, that Penn State is not compelled to release the documents it has about the school’s interaction with Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistance coach accused of multiple counts of sexual abuse of young children.

Pennsylvania’s “state-related” schools are Lincoln University, Penn State, Temple University, and the University of Pittsburgh. As a result of funding reforms in the late 20th century these institutions receive funding from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania but are legally independent. This allows such institutions to change students higher tuition.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer