John Lombardi was recently fired as president of the LSU System in the same way that he was hired in 2007 — under a veil of secrecy that raises more questions than it answers. That secrecy is an insult to the taxpayers who support LSU, and it reflects poorly on the leaders of an important institution who seem to want vast public resources, but without public accountability.
Lombardi was hired after a secretive search process in which he was introduced to local LSU supporters only a short time before his appointment. At the time of his hiring, a number of Lombardi’s supporters praised his frank management style as an attribute. Lombardi’s directness didn’t suit a lot of other people during his years as LSU president. On a 12-4 vote, the LSU Board fired Lombardi and tapped former LSU System President William Jenkins to lead the system on an interim basis.
Hours before the board meeting, news that Lombardi would be fired made headlines. Board member Tony Falterman said board Chairman Hank Danos called the evening before Lombardi’s firing to say that Lombardi was on the way out.
Advance notice of Lombardi’s firing — and the quick appointment of Jenkins to fill his shoes on an interim basis — suggests that a majority of board members came to an agreement to fire Lombardi and tap Jenkins as interim president before the recent board meeting. The Louisiana Open Meetings Law prohibits a public body from using proxy voting, secret balloting or other means to avoid public voting. The LSU Board’s recent actions concerning Lombardi and Jenkins suggest a majority of board members reached a consensus about important public business outside of public view. This is certainly a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Open Meetings Law.
People of good will can disagree about whether Lombardi should have been fired.
That’s a question that should have been aired in public — not handled in a pro forma manner that pointed to politicking done behind the scenes.
When public bodies do not act transparently, they invite the public to draw their own conclusions. In the wake of secrecy, a thousand speculations bloom. Among the theories concerning Lombardi’s departure is the assumption that his ouster was orchestrated by Gov. Bobby Jindal. People shouldn’t have to guess how important matters of public policy have been decided.
Unfortunately, LSU officials have a long history of avoiding transparency. Over the years, several top administrators, including Lombardi, have been hired after largely secretive searches, in which the public wasn’t given complete knowledge about which candidates were being considered.
The LSU Board has appointed a search committee to find a replacement for Lombardi. If the board’s previous history is any indication, that search also could be largely secretive.
We hope the board takes a different approach. If LSU officials want to grow and maintain public support for LSU, they need to give the public a seat at the table when important decisions are made.
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