LINCOLN — The University of Nebraska is mounting another effort to keep confidential the names of finalists for top leadership posts.

And state media and government watchdog groups are mounting another effort to defeat it.

On Wednesday, State Sen. John Murante of Gretna introduced a bill that would require NU to only release the name and resume of a single finalist, as selected by the Board of Regents, for posts such as NU president and chancellor of its campuses.

Currently, the university must publicly release the names of four finalists for such posts.

Supporters of the current law say that such disclosure gives the public a voice in the selection of finalists for important leadership posts and that Murante's proposal puts all the power in the hands of the regents.

"The idea that a public university can't stand a public hiring process is an oxymoron," said Mike Reilly, the executive editor of The World-Herald and president of Media of Nebraska, which represents the state's media.

Critics of the current law, though, say that quality candidates don't want it known that they're applying for new jobs and that such disclosure jeopardizes their performance at current jobs.

"We're fortunate to have attracted talented people to lead our university. But it is clear to me that the current law in Nebraska discourages many potential candidates from applying," said Regent Howard Hawks of Omaha.

Delette Olberg, a spokeswoman for Hawks, said 146 candidates were identified by a search firm as refusing to apply for the then-vacant post of NU president in 2014 because of Nebraska's open selection process. Of those, 15 were presidents of university systems and 69 were presidents of colleges, Olberg said she was told.

Murante, who introduced the bill on behalf of Hawks, called the statistics "very disturbing."

Under Legislative Bill 1109, NU would publicly identify a "priority candidate" for a job 30 days prior to a vote by the regents. The finalist's background would be provided, and public hearings held at each of the university's campuses. The 30 days would provide a "vetting" period for the public, faculty and students, Murante said.

Reilly said there was no way to determine if the 146 figure was reliable. He said that candidates who feared being publicly named as one of four finalists would also fear being named as a single finalist. "Whoever wrote the bill used a little bit of humor in calling it an 'enhanced public scrutiny hiring process.' It's a retreat," Reilly said.

Jack Gould of the government watchdog group Common Cause said that NU is a public entity, the public is going to pay the salaries of its leaders, and the public deserves a voice in picking the finalist. "This (bill) gives the regents a great deal more power in the selection process," he said. "It cuts out the public."

In November of 2014, the regents announced four finalists for NU's then-vacant post of university president. One finalists withdrew just prior to the naming of Hank Bounds two months later.

Earlier in 2014, a similar proposal to reduce disclosure of finalists for NU jobs was introduced in the State Legislature before being killed.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9584, paul.hammel@owh.com

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