For the second consecutive time, the University of Minnesota Board of Regents is moving toward the hiring of a new president for the U of M system by selecting a lone finalist when the other two candidates still in the running refused to have their identities publicly disclosed unless they were identified as the lone finalist.
In 2010, a search committee comprised of a small fraction of the full regents board named current U of M President Eric Kaler as the lone finalist when the other semifinalists refused to be publicly named unless they were the lone finalist. Last week, that scenario was repeated, when the regent search committee picked University of South Carolina Provost Joan Gabel as the lone finalist to fill the shoes of the retiring Kaler. (They did stress that Gabel was the committee’s clear preference for the position.)
Kaler, last week, commented that the board of regents is put in a “real disadvantage” when trying to hire a new president because of the current open meeting laws.
Had the full board of regents sat down and interviewed all of the semifinalists, the meeting would have had to have been public – because of the open meeting law – meaning the interviewees would have been publicly identified. Understandably, that can be a source of stress for those seeking top level positions – positions so lofty and important that the public would be interested in knowing who’s seeking them – but not wanting to be named unless they’re in line to get the job. Clearly, if your current bosses find out you’re looking to move on but you haven’t yet successfully moved on, that can be uncomfortable for all concerned.
Regent Richard Beeson said last week he wants the open meeting law changed so that the full board of regents can meet in private when vetting presidential candidates.
But the thinking here is the last thing we need is relaxed open meeting laws. Also, the thinking here is that despite the hand-wringing by public officials who think the current statutes regarding what they can and can’t do in public – they love to say things like “We can’t even sit down for a cup of coffee without breaking the law” – the law is stretched and broken more often than the public realizes. There are simply too many secret alliances formed and too many mysterious changes in opinion and too much left unsaid for any other conclusion to be reached.
Maybe people don’t really want to know what’s going on in the world around them…what the powers-that-be are up to, even when the decisions they make directly impact them. Maybe ignorance is bliss, after all. Maybe people would rather have salt poured in an open wound than be informed by what our president routinely calls the “enemy of the people.”
While you can pick out a couple national media/news operations that no doubt have an agenda to push and as a result broadcast their version of the truth, or at least bend the truth to fit their point of view, at the smaller, local level, we’re just trying to get relevant news and information to as many people as possible. That job is made tougher when the powers-that-be, who answer to taxpayers and voters, are given more loopholes to sneak through as they try to keep their back-room workings from the public eye.
You could argue that in this one particular case, when people are applying for high-profile jobs but don’t want to be publicly named unless they get the job, a change in open meeting rules is at least worth considering.
So, fine, consider it, then leave the laws as they are.