As of today, Louisiana State University has been in contempt of a court order for 115 days, incurring a fine of $500 a day for each day it is in contempt.
As I wrote in an earlier blog, The (Baton Rouge)Advocate sued LSU, seeking to get the university to comply with the Louisiana open records law and turn over the names of people who applied for the LSU president's job. Judge Janice Clark directed LSU to turn over the records almost four months ago. LSU refused and appealed Judge Clark's order to the Louisiana Supreme Court. The state's highest court refused to review the order.
But the litigation is not yet over. Apparently, the university is going to pursue a lengthy appeal process, hoping that a Louisiana appellate court will eventually reverse Judge Clark's order. I think this is a forlorn hope. Ultimately, LSU will have to turn over the records
Why does LSU insist on keeping its presidential search secret? And more importantly, who benefits from this secrecy?
Executive search firms. First, executive search firms charge tens of thousands of dollars to administer university searches for executive leaders. These firms keep a stable of potential job applicants who are happy to throw their names in the hat for a university executive job so long as their current employers don't find out. Keeping names secret helps the search firm keep a tidy pool of job candidates on hand for the many searches they coordinate.
University executives. Second, many university presidents and senior executives--provosts, deans, etc.---are constantly on the prowl for new jobs, and they don't want their current employers to know that they are ready to jump ship if a better opportunity appears. Undoubtedly, some of the 35 semifinalists in the LSU presidential search will be embarrassed when their names are eventually released.
Lawyers. Finally, attorneys make their fees by helping universities skirt the letter of state open records laws. In LSU's current dispute with The Advocate, the accumulated legal fees will certainly be much larger than the fine that LSU ultimately pays.
LSU plays musical chairs with its chancellors and provosts. LSU maintains that secret executive searches are essential in order to attract the best talent. But how has that worked out for it? LSU has been plagued by a constant turnover of top leadership for the last 15 years. The university has changed chancellors and provosts so many times that it appears like the Board of Supervisors is playing musical chairs with its executive leadership.
And of course it is the secrecy of the executive searches that enables a little gang of mobile administrators to hop, skip and jump around the United Staes, getting ever higher salaries with every move.
Yes, LSU's secrecy benefits an executive search firm; it benefits a small group of suitcase administrators; and it benefits the attorneys. But who are the losers? The people of Louisiana, who are paying for this charade through their taxes.
Editorial. 109 days in contempt. The (Baton Rouge) Advocate, September 1, 2013, p. 6B.