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December 27, 2012 8:42 am

NWC board names finalists

Written by Ilene Olson

UW board continues to keep them secret

The Northwest College Board is to be commended for releasing on Friday the names of the three finalists vying to replace NWC President Paul Prestwich, who will resign in June.

The finalists are Stefani Hicswa, president of Miles City (Mont.) Community College; Debra Thatcher, chief operating officer, provost and vice president of academic affairs at State University of New York; and Jon Connolly, vice president of academic affairs at Sheridan and Gillette College (Northern Wyoming Community College District).

Each candidate will spend two days on campus next month during the interview process, and the public is invited to an afternoon session on the first day of each candidate’s stay. (See story in Dec. 24 Powell Tribune for more information.)

That contrasts sharply with the University of Wyoming board’s decision late last month to not release the names of the finalists for the UW president’s job.

UW President Tom Buchanan is retiring at the end of the summer, and the UW board plans to announce his replacement by Feb. 27 — apparently without public or campus involvement or input on those finalists.

The Casper Star Tribune, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and The Associated Press later filed a lawsuit challenging the UW board’s decision to keep the names of the finalists secret.

“We believe it is the best policy to have these finalists named,” attorney Bruce Moats told the Casper Star Tribune. “When someone becomes a finalist, then any so-called privacy interest must give way to the public’s ability to know and be able to speak with the person who is going to lead our lone publicly funded four-year university.”

It is hard to imagine why the UW Board of Trustees would consider the hiring of a new president to run the university to be anything but a public process. It certainly is of public interest.

According to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, the University of Wyoming has 13,000 students, 6,741 employees and a budget of $542 million, and the UW president is one of the highest paid public officials in the state. If that’s not public interest, what is?

Even so, the UW board plans to keep the process secret until, and unless, the court orders it to name the finalists.

“We also are committed to attracting the deepest possible pool of candidates from which to choose a talented, proven leader,” wrote Trustees President Dave Bostrom in a recent editorial. “The best way to obtain such a pool is for us to not publicly name any of the candidates, including the finalists.”

We disagree. These are finalists — people who are on a very short list for the job, and whose references and credentials will be checked during the interview and hiring process, if they haven’t been already. Their candidacy for the position won’t remain a secret from their current employers for long, and the public has a right to know who the board is considering to lead the university.

Beyond that is the fact that the president of any college or university is a public figure. If finalists for the position are not comfortable with public interest and scrutiny, they probably should look elsewhere for a job.

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