At a time when Southeast Texans should be pleased with the announcement of a diverse 23-person search committee to find a successor to Lamar University President Kenneth Evans, the process has already gotten off to a bad start. The committee will forward a list of finalists to Chancellor Brian McCall for his review, but he will recommend only a “sole finalist” to be considered by the school’s governing board.

The “sole finalist” dodge is an insult to taxpayers. It is a cynical end-around to a state law that is designed, specifically, to ensure that the real list of finalists is publicized. The gambit works like this:

State law requires finalists for certain jobs such as public school district superintendents or college presidents to be disclosed to taxpayers at least 21 days before one of the finalists is offered the job. Unfortunately, many local school boards, and now the Texas State University System Board of Regents, have figured out a way to evade the clear intent of this law. They identify a (wink, nudge) “sole finalist” and then wait 21 days to hire him or her.

This is wrong. It deprives taxpayers of knowing who the real finalists were. It prevents them from comparing the backgrounds and resumes of the actual finalists to decide for themselves whether the best person was hired.

This decision by the Board of Regents is particularly disappointing because it had displayed the greatest degree of public accountability with previous searches for Lamar campus presidents. It held a public reception featuring the real finalists so area residents could meet them in person and form their own impressions. There have been no problems with this approach.

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As with so many efforts to hide public accountability, a simple question stands out: Why? Why on earth would the board of regents go to such elaborate lengths to evade a simple law that is incredibly easy to comply with? Why would the regents not want taxpayers to know who the real finalists are? What are they hiding?

Make no mistake about it, the regents’ own news release affirms that there will indeed be a list of actual finalists forwarded to Chancellor McCall. Instead of sharing that list with the people of Southeast Texas who will be working with the Lamar president for many years, McCall is slamming the door on accountability and releasing the name of a “sole finalist.”

This is a mistake that must be corrected. The regents must reconsider their decision and announce that instead the real list of finalists will be publicized. If they don’t, they are setting a terrible example for other public boards and creating a barrier for the next president that does not need to exist.

As we have said before, the Lamar campuses are probably the most important public institutions in the region. As such, they must follow the highest standards for ethics and openness. This cynical ploy undermines that effort, and it must be changed.



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