On LSU And Public Hiring Processes

The issue of the private search process discussed yesterday in our piece on F. King Alexander as the finalist for the combined job of LSU chancellor and LSU system president is clouding the hire. From the Baton Rouge Business Report today

LSU Board of Supervisors member Blake Chatelain, who chaired the presidential search committee, on Monday defended the secretive search for LSU’s next leader, saying the process helped them identify the best candidate: California State University Long Beach President F. King Alexander. The argument in favor of secretive searches tends to be that the best candidates often don’t even apply in an open search, fearing that not being picked will hurt their careers and their relationships with current employers. “That is a fiction created by the search consultants,” says LSU Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope. “Every candidate who has applied at LSU has, if exposed, gotten a raise. Every LSU administrator who has sought employment elsewhere has not been impaired and has also gotten either incentives or a raise.” Cope says it’s difficult to say whether Alexander is the best candidate when the list of applicants is not available. LSU student Andrea Gallo, who is editor-in-chief of The Daily Reveille, released a statement today calling for LSU to seek an opinion from Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell as to whether the university’s refusal to release the names of candidates for a public position is legal. Gallo’s attorney, Scott Sternberg of New Orleans, has written the LSU System requesting leaders seek the opinion on the decision to contract with a third-party consultant and withhold the names of applicants. Sternberg is giving the university seven days to respond before legal action is taken, according to the statement.

Sternberg is our attorney where public records matters are concerned and he’s a heck of a guy. And the legal principle at stake, namely that since LSU is a state university everything it does should be transparent to the public, is sound. We wouldn’t particularly bet against Sternberg should he move forward with legal action.

But as a matter of what’s best for LSU, Cope and the Reveille have this wrong. And Cope, particularly, is dead wrong. When he attempts to spin this idea of secrecy as a “fiction” by saying that only rivers of money and bouquets come from the exposure of a candidate’s interest in a high-profile job at LSU, he knows better. After all, we don’t need to go any further than Pat Sullivan to disprove such a nonsensical statement.

Sullivan was the head football coach at TCU and was about to take the then-open position at LSU in December of 1994, but he had a buyout at TCU that then-athletic director Joe Dean refused to pay. At the time the Tiger Athletic Foundation was not in a position to jump in and handle such issues, so an impasse resulted. And the widely-publicized impending hire of Sullivan never happened.

A year later, Sullivan was out of a job. He had a bad year in 1995 and the Powers That Be in Fort Worth used that to run him off.

Sullivan is only one of lots of examples of what happens to people in college administration or athletics who suffer from having their names exposed during a hiring process. Cope has to know this. If not, perhaps he honestly thinks that an athletic director being run out of Durham, North Carolina thanks to alumni and boosters enraged at his having thrown the Duke lacrosse team under the bus amid a fraudulent allegation by a murderer and a crooked district attorney bent on political opportunism was the best LSU could have really done with or without a secret process.

Sorry, but that dog don’t hunt. While it would be a public good to have a fully transparent and open hiring process, it’s a lot more of a public good to get the best possible candidate for the job. And as we saw with the “public” hire that produced Joe Alleva as the athletic director, transparency wasn’t served at all by a public process – Alleva was willing to publicly apply for the LSU job because the fix was already in when he applied, and he knew he wasn’t going to be without a job after that process was over.

It’s entirely possible that F. King Alexander would be willing to go through a public process to take the LSU job. LSU is a big step up from Long Beach State, he’s not going to lose his job there since he’s regarded as a superstar on his way up anyway, and it seems pretty clear that Alexander is disgusted with the state of California’s public sector. On the other hand, Alexander might be in the mix for other jobs around the country which don’t require him to go through things like panel interviews that stream online – and something tells us Kevin Cope wouldn’t exactly be the first person to stand up and take the blame if Alexander were to sign on with one of those jobs.



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