This editorial originally appeared in the Kearney Hub.
An open hiring process is the best approach to replace outgoing University of Nebraska President J.B. Milliken, but Nebraska lawmakers could soon consider an approach in which Nebraskans wouldn’t know who the top applicants are for the critically important position.
State Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney has offered, on behalf of the university, Legislative Bill 1018, which would allow NU to withhold the names of applicants for president, vice president and campus chancellors.
Proponents of LB 1018 believe the only way to attract the best applicants is to ensure their confidentiality so they would have no concerns about harming their current status by looking into the job at Nebraska.
We question whether attracting the kind of applicant who feels it is necessary to sneak around to find a better position really is good for Nebraska.
It seems the more honest approach would be for prospective applicants to confer with their top elected board members about applying. It’s not a surprise when academic leaders look to advance. In fact, it’s expected.
By closing the application and review process, the NU system not only would keep the names of applicants secret from the Nebraskans who pay taxes and tuition to support the university system, but the process also could put NU in bad standing with other institutions when it’s abruptly announced that we’ve recruited and hired away their talented leaders.
Nebraska law already accounts for the desire for confidentiality in the application process for top public officials.
In a compromise crafted almost 10 years ago, lawmakers approved a process in which only the identity of finalists must be shared with the public.
The system makes sense because it guards applicants from publicity until they’ve reached the final cut, but then allows the public to learn the identities of the finalists for public administrative positions, including NU president.
Nebraska’s current system has been around long enough that we’ve seen that it works. It protects privacy but also satisfies the public’s right and need to know.
Let’s not forget that as citizens, it is our obligation to watch over the functions of our public institutions.
Nebraska lawmakers should not be caught up in candidate search anxiety when considering LB 1018.
There is a degree of tension every time a vacancy such as this occurs, but the NU Regents are fully capable of recruiting great leaders, as Milliken’s selection demonstrates.
Should lawmakers err and attempt to adopt LB 1018, we can only warn the public about the risks inherent in that move. After making the NU president’s search secret, what is next? School administrators? City managers?
Openness serves our state well. Let’s stick with our current system and tell the public who the finalists are.