Advocate sues LSU over president search records

The Advocate and LSU’s student newspaper filed public records lawsuits against the LSU Board of Supervisors on Monday, seeking documents related to LSU’s search for a new president of the state’s flagship university.

That search, conducted largely in secret, yielded F. King Alexander — president of Cal State University in Long Beach, Calif. — as the sole finalist for LSU’s top post.

In recently announcing Alexander as the sole finalist for LSU’s presidency, search committee chairman Blake Chatelain said LSU officials identified 100 people, narrowed that list to 35 active candidates, then cut the list to six or seven people, some of whom were interviewed face to face.

Advocate reporter Koran Addo filed a series of formal public records requests with LSU beginning in early February, seeking documents related to the candidates, but those requests were denied.

“Our constitution provides that public business must be conducted in public, and the Courts of this state have rejected various attempts by public bodies to exclude the public from the process of hiring for important public positions,” said Lori Mince, an attorney for Capital City Press, doing business as The Advocate, and Addo.

“In addition, the Legislature has passed legislation mandating the names and qualifications of all applicants for important public jobs must be disclosed. The ability of the public to understand and participate in the decision of who will serve as the head of the State’s flagship university depends on their ability to know who is being considered. How can the public know whether King Alexander is the best choice, when they aren’t told who else was up for the job?” Mince asked.

The suit was assigned to state District Judge Janice Clark, who scheduled a hearing for April 15.

Herb Vincent, LSU associate vice chancellor for university relations/senior associate athletic director, said in a prepared statement that the suit will be “vigorously defended.

“LSU believes the most effective search process for a significant position such as president or chancellor is one that maintains the confidentiality of the candidates. To do otherwise would limit the pool of potential candidates,” he said. “Candidates for such positions in higher education typically prefer for their names to be held in the strictest confidence and LSU feels strongly it should respect those who were potential candidates for the position of LSU President and does not wish to cause them harm with their existing employers by revealing their names.

“To do so would severely inhibit LSU’s ability to identify top candidates in future searches, which does not serve the university or the people of Louisiana well in any circumstance,” Vincent added. “LSU firmly believes that Louisiana law does not require such unwise and unwarranted disclosure.”

A similar suit that Andrea Gallo, editor of The Daily Reveille, filed Monday was assigned to state District Judge Tim Kelley.

The Advocate suit, which names the LSU Board of Supervisors and Chairman Hank Danos as defendants, states that the board hired Texas-based R. William Funk & Associates late last year to assist it in identifying applicants for the position of president. That firm has been or will be paid $120,000, plus expenses, for its services, the suit says.

In a Feb. 8 response to Addo, Board of Supervisors attorney Shelby McKenzie stated that the records Addo sought were “proprietary information” maintained by R. William Funk & Associates, the suit says.