Our Views: Clark made right call

District Judge Janice Clark was brief but compelling in last week’s ruling that directed LSU officials to turn over the names of 35 candidates who had been seriously considered for the LSU system’s presidency.

We’re sorry that LSU officials have decided to appeal Clark’s ruling. The taxpayers who support LSU deserve better.

In her one-paragraph ruling, Clark said that the presidential search documents requested by The Advocate and The Times Picayune are public records that should have been surrendered. The Advocate had sued for access to the documents, and The Times-Picayune later joined the effort. A similar suit by Andrea Gallo, editor of LSU’s student newspaper, The Reveille, is scheduled to be heard by District Judge Tim Kelley this week.

LSU officials and a private search firm had refused to release the names of any of the candidates for the job except that of F. King Alexander, who was eventually awarded the job. The tactics used by LSU officials to avoid public scrutiny were a cynical exercise in evasion, with members of a search committee directed to review candidates on a consultant’s website not available to the public — a blatant move to avoid putting any paper or electronic documents directly in their hands. Search committee members were also told not to generate any emails related to the search that might be requested for inspection under the Louisiana Public Records Law.

Additionally, search committee members also narrowed the field of candidates by voting through a round-robin telephone voting system that seems to be an obvious violation of the Louisiana Open Meetings Law.

LSU attorney Jimmy Faircloth had argued in Clark’s court that turning over the names of LSU candidates now would be pointless, serving no other interest beyond satisfying “press curiosity.” Faircloth’s contention does not come close to constituting a legal argument, and even as an observation on public policy, it misses the point. Releasing the documents now serves a dual purpose. By reviewing the names of candidates, the public can judge LSU’s ability to attract top talent. Compelling LSU to release the names now would also, we hope, help deter LSU officials from staging search processes for future leaders in which a lone “applicant” is named — a practice it has followed frequently in the past.

The lawsuit in question is more than a legal squabble between a couple of media outlets and LSU. At issue is whether the broader public should have a clear view of how public business is being done. As we have said before, if the public has no idea what other candidates were considered for LSU’s presidency, how can it be assured that the best person was selected?

LSU officials should follow the law, and release these documents now.