LSU Faculty Senate wants list of president candidates

“This is a process of cultural change with  the board. And we all know cultural change takes a long while. KEVIN COPE,   LSU Faculty Senate president

The LSU Faculty Senate on Monday fast-tracked and adopted a resolution calling on the LSU Board of Supervisors to disclose the names of candidates under consideration to become the university’s next president.

Members of LSU’s Presidential Search Committee, earlier this month, announced they had about 30 candidates on their short list to assume the university’s top position. In the weeks since that announcement, committee members have repeated their intent to keep secret all of those names, as a means of staying competitive among potential candidates.

The university is expected to announce the identity of a sole finalist once that person has been selected. They have set June as a target date to finish the search.

Monday’s Faculty Senate vote to suspend the rules — which usually requires three readings of a proposal at three meetings before it’s passed — signals an urgency on the part of faculty to put pressure on an LSU board frequently criticized by staff as being secretive to the point of causing harm to the university’s reputation.

The adopted resolution specifically mentions the University of Wisconsin, a highly regarded public research institution, as having a rule requiring advance disclosure of multiple candidates for university leadership positions.

That requirement, the resolution says, hasn’t hurt Wisconsin’s “ability to recruit able presidents.”

Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope acknowledged Monday that the resolution is mostly symbolic and can’t be used legally to compel the LSU Board of Supervisors nor the Presidential Search Committee to release candidate information.

“It could be argued that faculty senates around the nation are essentially useless,” Cope said before adding that the point of the resolution was to put pressure on the LSU board.

“Pressure has worked in the past,” he said. The LSU board has slowed down the search process that was originally supposed to be wrapped up in September, he explained, adding that faculty outcry has led to a more-deliberative and inclusive process, even if doubts remain about how seriously LSU board members take faculty input.

“This is a process of cultural change with the board,” Cope said. “And we all know cultural change takes a long while.”

The three-page resolution tackles a number of different issues related to the presidential search, including LSU’s recent rejection of a public records request from The Advocate asking that candidate names be released under a section of Louisiana law requiring that “each applicant for public position of authority” be made “available for public inspection.”

LSU System Lead Counsel Shelby McKenzie responded by saying that all application materials are being handled by Dallas-based R. William Funk and Associates, through the firm’s contract with the private LSU Foundation, and therefore, are not subject to state public records laws.

The Faculty Senate resolution goes on to criticize what Cope and others have described as the LSU board’s illegal usage of closed-door sessions to discuss candidates and the lack of faculty on the search team.

The document further cites a statement from the nation’s top organization of professors, the American Association of University Professors, which Cope said recently condemned “the imposition of secrecy oaths on search committee members.”

The resolution goes on to say that LSU’s history of conducting clandestine searches “has resulted in constant administrative turnover, with few appointees remaining in office for more than four years.”

The university has made it a practice in recent years of secretly meeting with candidates in airports and other remote locations during past searches for former administrators, including LSU Chancellors Sean O’Keefe and Michael Martin and former System President John Lombardi.

Search committee chairman Blake Chatelain has maintained that LSU’s strategy of being tight-lipped is not uncommon in higher education circles where many of the most highly qualified candidates already have jobs and don’t want to let their current employers know they are looking elsewhere.

“If we don’t keep this confidential, we’ll limit our candidate field,” Chatelain has said.