A state district judge on Thursday ordered LSU’s Board of Supervisors to turn over the names of the 35 candidates for the position of LSU president whose names were presented to the board’s search committee.
Judge Janice Clark, in a short minute entry issued after Thursday morning’s hearing, issued the ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, Capital City Press and the Times Picayune. The Advocate is owned by Capital City Press.
The Advocate and Andrea Gallo, editor-in-chief for LSU’s student newspaper, The Daily Reveille, both filed motions April 1 to compel the board to release the names and application materials connected to the search. Gallo’s motion will be heard by District Judge Tim Kelley next week. A suit filed by the Times Picayune, filed one week later, was consolidated with the Advocate’s suit.
Clark issued a one-paragraph ruling Thursday, saying the documents requested by The Advocate and the Times Picayune should have been surrendered.
“The Court … declares that the requested records herein sued upon are indeed public records in accordance with the Louisiana Public Records Act,” the minute entry says.
LSU and a search consultant had refused to turn over the names of any of the candidates for the job save one — that of F. King Alexander, the president of California State University at Long Beach. He was eventually awarded the job.
Lori Mince, who represents The Advocate and the Times Picayune, praised Clark’s ruling.
“I think Judge Clark recognized that the Legislature and the courts of Louisiana have always evidenced a strong commitment to transparency,” she said.
Jimmy Faircloth, who represented LSU, said he could not comment on the ruling until he had talked to the Board of Supervisors.
Faircloth would not say whether he planned to appeal the ruling.
“I will have to visit with the board, and lay out the options,” he said.
During the approximately 90-minute hearing Thursday, Mince argued that the search’s secrecy violated the state’s public records laws.
“This is an extremely important position,” Mince said, referring to the LSU president’s job. “The public does have a real interest in knowing who the board chose and whether F. King Alexander is the best candidate.”
Mince said the search was conducted in an “extremely secret” manner.
She outlined the procedure, which included engaging a search consultant, R. William Funk and Associates, to reach out to potential applicants. From an initial field of approximately 100 potential candidates, Funk narrowed the search to 35 semifinalists and placed their information on a website accessible only to a subcommittee of the Board of Supervisors.
Mince cited a deposition of Board Member Blake Chatelain, who testified that board members were told not to download anything available on the website and to not send any emails that could be public record.
“Instead, there was a telephone voting system called the ‘Top 10 Exercise’ by which board members called Chatelain to narrow the list,” Mince said.
The entire effort was nothing more than a “secret process conducted through technological artifice,” she said. “If instead of a website, Funk had given the committee members binders, the court would have no problem saying that was a public record.”
Even after the field had been narrowed to a handful of finalists for the position, the names were not released. The only name released was that of Alexander, who was eventually awarded the job.
LSU attorney Jimmy Faircloth said Alexander was the only formal applicant.
“Nobody applied to the LSU system,” he said. Many of the people who were in the 100-person list and the 35-person list were those who were identified by Funk and Associates as potential recruits, Faircloth said.
That information is proprietary to the search consultant, Faircloth said.
Turning over the names now would be pointless, he said.
“The president’s position has been filled,” he said. “It would serve no purpose except press curiosity to go into these people’s lives.”
The process for the search was laid out during a public meeting held in November, he said.
Media outlets should have complained then, he said.
“There was not a peep,” he said. “They waited until the end of the process and said ‘we want all the names.’ ”
Faircloth also argued the search required discretion.
“Without that, you wouldn’t get a quality pool of applicants,” he said.
Faircloth contended that many candidates would not have expressed an interest in the position if their names would have been subject to public records requests.
“The whole process was viewed from LSU and the candidates’ perspectives,” he said, adding that in letters to prospective candidates, Funk and Associates had promised their names would not be made public.
Mince responded, “If LSU told them that they have an expectation of privacy, then LSU gave them bad advice.”
Editor’s note: The article was changed on April 26 to correctly report that Gallo filed the suit and not The Daily Reveille.