Policymakers | Trusteeship

Let public know NU finalists

LINCOLN JOURNAL STAR   |  January 26, 2014 by Editorial

State senators should reject a brazen attempt to cut the public out of the selection process for top University of Nebraska administrators.
A bill (LB1018) introduced by Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney on behalf of NU, would keep the entire process behind closed doors until a finalist had been selected.

This is a shabby way to treat the taxpayers who pay the bills for the university. There’s no justification for allowing a small group of power brokers to make such an important decision in secret.

Presumably advocates for a secretive process will argue that reputations and careers will be at risk if the identity of candidates is revealed.

That’s an exaggeration.

Consider the commendably open process Lincoln Public Schools used to select Steve Joel as superintendent. Once the finalists were selected, the public had a chance to meet them and offer feedback before the school board made its decision.

That’s the way it should be done.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni suggests that the best times to seek public input during a search for a university president “is at two points in the process—at the beginning and at the end.”

At the beginning of the search, the council suggests, the search committee should ask the various constituencies — faculty and interest groups off campus — what sort of a president they think the university needs.

“At the end of the process, when finalists are invited to campus, individuals from affected constituencies should be asked to meet with each,” the council says in its guide to hiring a president.

The council says that confidentiality is important in the process, but qualifies that with the phrase, “at least until the number of candidates is reduced to three or four.”

Assurance that the public will be allowed to have a say before the final decision is made helps minimize the leaks and rumors that always are part of the selection process for a university president.

For example, rumors have been circulating for more than a year that Gov. Dave Heineman may be interested in the position. Imagine how the rumor mill would heat up if senators approve a process that shuts out the public until it’s time for the Board of Regents to pull out its rubber stamp for the selection that’s already been made.

Truth is that there are always some people in the know even when the entire selection process is kept under wraps. LB1018 would maximize their power.

State law currently calls for the list of finalists to be made public. The last time NU used the process, it may have been uncomfortable for some, but it was illuminating. Sure there were differences of opinion. It became apparent that an Omaha bloc on the Board of Regents had a favorite.

In the end, the board picked J.B. Milliken, who 10 years later will leave to cheers and applause. So the system worked. And you don’t need a Ph.D. to know that if something isn’t broke, there’s no need to fix it.


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