Monday, November 15, 2010

Open government advocates challenge

closed-door selection of



"We're not trying to avoid the open meeting law..."

I've posted on this before.

From the Minnesota Daily:

Those who’ve been at the University of Minnesota long enough may be experiencing déjà vu after Friday’s presidential finalist announcement.

The Board of Regents proudly announced Eric Kaler as the only one left in the running for University president — a move that left some cheering and others raising their eyebrows.

John Borger, the Minneapolis attorney who represented five media outlets, including the Minnesota Daily, in the 2002 case alleging that the regents violated the state’s Open Meeting Law and Data Practices Act in their presidential search, said no laws were broken this time.

Still, to be in the best position to lead, the finalist should have received the full support of the University community and beyond, Borger said.

"I certainly would’ve hoped for a more public process this time around," he said, "especially after the lengthy fight that went on eight years ago."

Whether the candidates have been interviewed turns into "a bit of a semantic game," said Eva von Dassow, an associate professor in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies and a member of the Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education. She said she believes individual regents have "met with" the candidates, they just didn’t refer to the meetings as formal interviews.

During the application process, Regents Chairman Clyde Allen said he and Regents Simmons and Cohen met with candidates to encourage them to stay in the running. He wouldn’t say how many candidates they met with, although it included the four finalists.

"We saw some very good names coming into the pool, and we wanted to be sure they stayed in … it was to be sure they stayed in the pool once we had learned the names from various nominees and applications," Allen said.

Allen also said he had met with candidates to recruit them

"I had met with some in order to recruit them for the pool and in order [to encourage them] to stay in the pool," Allen said.

Regent Patricia Simmons chaired the Search Advisory Committee, whose members are permitted to meet with candidates.

Jane Kirtley, Silha professor of Media Ethics and Law, said she finds it surprising that after two searches, the regents have been able to identify only a single finalist.
"It raises the question — it’s not proof — but it raises the question of whether that was done in part to avoid the public input," Kirtley said.

Part of being a candidate for president of a public, land-grant institution in Minnesota means accepting that it’s a public process, Kirtley said.

"For me it’s an important test of whether a candidate who might become the president is comfortable with the public scrutiny,"
she said.

For the regents to call Kaler a finalist is "disingenuous," Timothy Brennan, an English professor said.

"It really is the final choice,"
said Brennan, also a member of Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education.

The faculty and students should’ve been petitioned and actively involved in the process of formulating the criteria by which the president is chosen, he said.

Instead, the regents have now opened a forum for public commentary where students and faculty can e-mail questions to be asked during the public interviews.

"The person’s already been chosen," Brennan said. "It’s a little late for that."

On Friday, the FRPE submitted a list of 10 questions for the University’s presidential candidates, asking the candidates to talk about whether they would support faculty members forming and joining unions and whether they’d support regular faculty evaluations of the administrators, similar to those of faculty members.

"The public has an inherent right to know how its university is being run and how choices are made to run its university," von Dassow said.

Instead, the public is shut out until the last minute and doesn’t get to view or participate in the in the process, von Dassow said.

"[The regents are] within their legal rights to do this, but they simply spring one person upon us and the rest of the process is entirely closed," she said, "and we have nothing but rumors and guesses to go on."

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