LSU will continue to keep secret the names and qualifications of candidates in the running to become the university’s next president after rejecting a public records request from The Advocate.
The Advocate formally requested access last week to the applications, background materials and other information related to LSU’s search for a new university system president.
The records request cited a section of Louisiana law requiring that “each applicant for public position of authority” be made “available for public inspection.”
Members of LSU’s Presidential Search Committee said earlier this month they were considering about 30 candidates for the position. While addressing the committee, consultant Bill Funk pointed to a collection of documents in front of him, presumably containing the names and qualifications of the candidates.
Funk and the committee, however, did not discuss the candidates publicly, opting instead to move into a closed-door session lasting roughly an hour.
In a written response to The Advocate’s public records request, LSU System Lead Counsel Shelby McKenzie said none of those candidates has submitted written applications directly to LSU.
Instead, McKenzie said, all application materials are being handled by Dallas-based R. William Funk and Associates, through the firm’s contract with the private LSU Foundation, and therefore, are not subject to state public records laws.
“That company maintains proprietary information on persons holding high academic and other positions who might become candidates for a top university position ...” McKenzie wrote. “The LSU Board of Supervisors has not been given possession of any documents from William Funk and Associates that are responsive to your request.”
Funk, the head of the firm, has said he won’t talk to reporters during the search expected to last until June.
LSU’s decision to conduct a secretive search isn’t unprecedented. The university has a history of secretly meeting with candidates in remote locations and airports during past searches for former administrators, including LSU Chancellors Sean O’Keefe and Michael Martin and former System President John Lombardi.
Search committee chairman Blake Chatelain has said keeping the search under wraps is necessary to attract highly qualified candidates who already have jobs and don’t want to let their current employers know they are looking elsewhere.
“If we don’t keep this confidential, we’ll limit our candidate field,” Chatelain has said. “This is not uncommon at all.”
LSU’s secret searches break ranks with Louisiana’s other three public college systems that have either released candidate names and information voluntarily, or in response to public records requests.
Late last year, the University of Louisiana System released the names, résumés and other information related to the 16 candidates in the search for a new president before ultimately picking former University of Texas System administrator Sandra Woodley for the position.
In October 2011, the Louisiana Community and Technical College System publicly announced eight candidates who were up for the Baton Rouge Community College chancellor’s job, three days after The Advocate filed a public records request.
In early 2010, the Southern University System released the names of five semifinalists in the running to take over the nation’s only historically black college system.
LSU has been without a president since April, when the LSU board fired John Lombardi. Longtime university administrator William Jenkins was coaxed out of retirement shortly afterward to fill the position in the interim.