Our Views: Questions left by closed search

Did an LSU search committee pick the best person for the job in selecting F. King Alexander as its choice to be LSU’s next president?

We don’t know, and unless you were on the search committee, neither do you.

That uncertainty is the inevitable result of a search process in which no other candidates for the post were made public. If the public doesn’t know who else was considered for this important post, how can it possibly know that the best person was chosen?

Alexander hasn’t yet been approved for the job by the LSU Board of Supervisors, but his hiring seems all but assured, since he was the lone finalist in the search process. LSU officials have refused to release the names of any other candidates who were considered for the job, citing their usual rationales for the virtues of secrecy. In this search as in numerous other searches for top LSU personnel, university officials claimed that such secrecy was needed to avoid scaring off talented administrators who might not want their interest publicized.

We have seen no evidence that open, transparent searches discourage talented people from applying. In fact, talented administrators who express an interest in other jobs are often rewarded with raises and other incentives by their CURRENT employers.

Secretive searches, perversely touted as a “best practice” by many of their advocates, cannot possibly be considered the best option for a public institution, supported by tax dollars, created to support a public mission. In shielding themselves from public scrutiny, LSU officials are denying the public that LSU is supposed to serve a seat at the table. Such obstinacy is all the more remarkable given the frequent lament from LSU officials that the university is suffering from diminished state support. How can LSU’s leaders expect the vigorous support of taxpayers when the public is treated as a second-class partner in key decisions about LSU’s future?

We hope that Alexander fares better than John Lombardi, the former LSU president whose firing created the vacancy that Alexander is filling. Lombardi was also identified as the lone candidate for the top post after a secretive search, and the public had no time to consider Lombardi’s controversial employment history, which included frequent clashes with his former employers. Not surprisingly, Lombardi’s combative style also figured heavily into his exit from LSU. An open, transparent search would have allowed greater scrutiny of Lombardi’s track record, possibly creating momentum for a more-suitable candidate.

Alexander, who currently serves as president of Cal State University in Long Beach, Calif., has extensive experience as a university administrator, and he might be a good leader for LSU. But the manner in which he was selected for the top post at LSU has already compromised his ability to lead.