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January 29, 2013 8:25 am

EDITORIAL: Transparency for college president searches

Written by Tessa Schweigert

A tale of two very different college president searches is unfolding in Wyoming.

The first story, with its setting at Northwest College, shows why local educators and taxpayers deserve to be involved in an important search process to select the next college president.

The other story developing at the University of Wyoming and Wyoming Legislature involves secrecy, with leaders seeking to overturn a judge’s decision and keep the public in the dark.

At Northwest College, two presidential candidates visited the Powell campus this month. They met with faculty and staff, answered a variety of questions and explained why they should be chosen to lead Northwest College. A third candidate will visit Powell this week.

As a public institution that receives taxpayer dollars and is governed by an elected board, it is absolutely fitting that Northwest College made its presidential search open to the public. By releasing the names of three finalists and then hosting public presentations with each, NWC trustees invited the campus community and local residents to be involved in the process.

We applaud their decision and appreciate getting to know finalists before a college president is chosen. The search process exemplifies the “community” in our local community college — something the appointed University of Wyoming board could learn from.

The University of Wyoming Board of Trustees chose to conceal the names of finalists in its presidential search.

They decided the public would have no say, no involvement and no idea who may be hired to lead Wyoming’s only university.

The university receives hundreds of millions of dollars in public funding from the state. The UW president is one of the highest paid public officials in Wyoming. Many local students — your sons, daughters, grandchildren — will get their education at UW.

So why is the university telling Wyoming people we don’t deserve to be involved?

After news organizations sued over the university’s refusal to release candidates’ identities, a judge ruled that the UW board must disclose finalists’ names and the dates when they will visit Laramie.

On the heels of the judge’s decision last week, state legislators introduced a bill that would allow the university and community colleges to keep presidential searches closed to the public.

UW leaders and some lawmakers worry candidates may withdraw if their names are publicized, because it could threaten their current jobs. A desire to keep the initial pool of applications confidential is understandable, but that confidentiality is no longer needed once finalists are selected.

We hope that, by the time a person is named as a finalist, the board has already checked the candidate’s references and credentials. Their candidacy likely won’t remain a secret from a current employer for very long.

It’s also important to note that public involvement greatly influenced the University of Wyoming’s last presidential search. When the list of finalists did not include Tom Buchanan, the interim president at the time, the public voiced concern and opposition. The UW board then added Buchanan to the short list, and the remaining candidates dropped out.

Buchanan’s presidency has been marked by success and growth, showing he was the right man for the job. Dave Bostrom, the UW board president, said the board wished it could reject Buchanan’s resignation last year.

But if the search had been secret, as Bostrom and others now wish, Buchanan wouldn’t have been hired as UW’s president.

In the end, leaders at UW and NWC will choose their respective presidents. Involving the public helps us better understand their decisions.

Transparency is in the public’s best interest, and we ask our lawmakers to recognize that. Northwest College shows it can be done.

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