LSU Wins A Round In The President-Chancellor Public Records Fight

Earlier today, 19th District judge Tim Kelley gave the LSU Board of Supervisors a victory over the LSU Reveille by denying the student newspaper an injunction to force the board to release the names of the finalists for the job that eventually went to F. King Alexander.

The Baton Rouge Business Report describes the reasoning

The student newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Andrea Gallo, filed the suit several weeks ago, charging that the names of the candidates should be made public. The suit is similar to others brought by Nola.com/The Times-Picayune and The Advocate. Last week, Judge Janice Clark ruled in favor of the media organizations, ordering the Board of Supervisors to release the names of the candidates. But today Kelley ruled the finalists were not considered “applicants” and do not fall under public records law. It is unclear what the contradictory rulings will mean.

Yes, a finalist can be different than an applicant. That happens when LSU is trying to make a hire for its president through poaching someone else rather than sitting back and watching who approaches the university about the job.

Those approaching LSU are applicants. Those who are on LSU’s wish list can be finalists.

And the finalists are the ones LSU doesn’t want to identify, for good reason. If you have to make the names known of the stars you want to go after, none of them will talk to you unless you’re bringing a job offer. That’s true for coaches and it’s true for university administrators as well. And offering somebody a job just based on his or her resume will get you a hire like Bobby Petrino or that basketball coach at Rutgers.

It’s unlikely that’s what the LSU Reveille really wants.

Yes, the public records laws serve a valuable purpose when it comes to public-sector hiring. But the folks who wrote those public records laws couldn’t possibly have intended them to impinge upon making slam-dunk hires of big-time candidates – what they were intended for is to impose transparency on those who would make brother-in-law hires behind closed doors.

When you’re trying to steal away a university president from, say, the University of Michigan, you really don’t want to have to issue a press release announcing your intention to meet with him about the job. He’s going to give you a good stiff-arm.

Naturally, the Times-Picayune and Baton Rouge Advocate couldn’t care less about that reality; they want a story, and they want for it to be easy to get. Forcing LSU to disclose their list every time a high-profile hire comes down the pike makes their reporters into stenographers rather than journalists who use sources and break news; it’s easier, and it costs less.

Public records laws are good things. They’re not intended to require stupid hiring practices. Kelley might have twisted the law a little by exercising a rather semantic but practical distinction between a “candidate” and a “finalist,” but the result was the right one, and it’s possible if not likely that it could provide a sensible amount of space within which a hiring authority can work to make good hires in situations like the one which produced Alexander.

Whether Alexander turns out to be worth the trouble it seems to have been for the Board of Supervisors to land him…that’s another story.

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