In Wyoming, university secrecy at any cost?

I’ll never quite get the secrecy argument where university presidential searches are concerned. These are huge taxpayer bills, and the chief executive officer of a public university seems to me to owe the public the opportunity to weigh in…

The Wyoming Legislature apparently disagrees with me entirely:

A state judge’s ruling last week that the University of Wyoming must make public documents containing the identities of the school’s presidential search finalists might become void if the state’s lawmakers approve newly introduced legislation.

On Thursday, one day after the state judge’s ruling, lawmakers introduced a bill that would keep documents related to presidential searches secret. The bill was unanimously passed out of committee today in Wyoming’s House of Representatives.

It’s not clear how the proposed legislation would affect the judge’s ruling. In his ruling, Judge Jeffrey Donnell set a Feb. 5 deadline for the university to release the finalists’ names.

Chad Baldwin, the university’s director of institutional communications, said if HB 223 becomes a law, it would prevent the finalists’ names from being released. Bruce Moats, an attorney who represented the media, called that a “$24 million question” and said he’s doing research to determine whether the law would override the judge’s ruling.

The bill, which amends the state’s public record inspection statute, would definitely affect future presidential searches at the University of Wyoming and community colleges in the state. All records or information relating to the search process would be made private if their release would identify a candidate.

In November, The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, The Casper Star-Tribune and The Associated Press filed a lawsuit against the university and its board of trustees seeking get access to documents including meeting schedules and itineraries that would reveal finalists’ names, Casper Star-Tribune Editor Darrell Ehrlick said.

Secret University Searches, and the Excuses Made for Them…

The Associated Press reporter Alan Zagier wrote a nice story looking at the tale of two very different searches at my university, one fairly open, one Vatican-like in its secrecy…and I lob an incendiary quote in for good measure!

“The law school search really demonstrates the power of this institution to attract high-caliber candidates in a very public search,” said Charles Davis, an associate professor of journalism and former executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. “There are institutions all over the country that run public searches, and they work fine. None of them have dropped off and fallen into the ocean, last I checked.”

Some states, notably Florida, legally require public colleges and universities to disclose finalists’ names in chancellor and presidential searches. That’s not the case in Missouri, which leaves it up to schools and their governing boards.

At our shop, everyone else runs partially open searches, but the top job is top secret.

Mass. AG to Review Selection of University President

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley ...

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One of my pet peeves in FOI…the way university presidents get to interview for megabucks, taxpayer-funded jobs in secret, so they can just move around and around in a little circle until they land the “next” one…all aided by these private search firms that states also pay huge amounts of money to, so they can tap their stable of secret candidates.

Maybe the states are waking up:

The state attorney general says she will review the actions of the trustees of theUniversity of Massachusetts for possible violations of the state Open Meeting Law when they met in closed session in January to question three finalists for the president’s job.

Attorney General Martha M. Coakley’s review should help clarify a section of the Open Meeting Law that regulates interviews for finalists for positions. Coakley took over enforcement of the law on July 1 from district attorneys. The Republican had asked Coakley about the Jan. 13 closed session as part of Sunshine Week, a national effort starting Sunday and led by the American Society of News Editors to promote a discussion about open government and freedom of information.

All this skullduggery in a state with one of the better provisions when it comes to hiring.

The state’s sunshine law provides for executive sessions to interview job applicants but such closed meetings can occur only during preliminary screenings of candidates. Once there are finalists, all screenings must be conducted in open meetings. Then, all other meetings “to consider and interview applicants” must be conducted in public.


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