F. King Alexander has been president of LSU for a year and a half, and by all accounts, he has been an effective and popular leader. It’s a credit to the LSU board that they selected Alexander and coaxed him to give up the California sunshine and come to Baton Rouge.
So it has always been hard to understand why the board wants to shroud in secrecy a presidential search that — by most accounts — produced a good outcome.
This week, a second court concluded that LSU conducted an illegal secret search before selecting Alexander. Under state law, the names and files of applicants for an important job like LSU president are public records. But the board created a bizarre dodge — claiming that Alexander was the only applicant — to avoid complying with the clear intent of the law.
The Advocate and The Times-Picayune went to court in 2013 to force LSU’s board to comply with the law, and District Judge Janice Clark came down forcefully on the side of open government, ruling that the applicant files are public records and finding LSU’s board in contempt for disregarding her order.
LSU appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeal, which heard arguments in the case and dawdled for nine months before issuing its decision this week. The court correctly saw through LSU’s fiction that one of the most prestigious jobs in higher education would really lure but a single applicant. But it erred in ruling that candidates who met the standard of applicant included only those who participated in an interview — four in all, rather than the 35 the board says it considered.
The people who love LSU — students and faculty, alumni and taxpayers — deserve better than to have a board that ignores the laws of Louisiana. In this case, in spite of the secrecy, LSU appears to have found a good president in Alexander. But in recent history, other, equally secretive searches for top LSU leaders haven’t turned out so well.
Secrecy in government always undermines confidence. Usually, public institutions resort to clandestine tactics to mask failures. But the 2013 search was a success. Why hide the details of how it was done?