CHEYENNE - Releasing the names of finalists for president of Wyoming's only four-year public university would harm the search, the University of Wyoming contended in response to a lawsuit by media companies.
Releasing the names "will cause substantial injury to the public interest" because some candidates for the job may not want to be identified and could withdraw from consideration, thereby reducing the pool of applicants, according to UW's response, which was filed Thursday by attorney Bruce Salzburg.
"The goal of the search is to attract the greatest number of the most experienced and highest qualified persons to become candidates for the position of president of the University of Wyoming," the response said.
In addition, the university contends that all records that identify the candidates, including those that are open under the law and have been judged open in previous court cases, should be off limits to the public.
"What they're really asking for is the court to make policy here and say, 'Hey, the names should be secret as a matter of policy,"' said Bruce Moats, a Cheyenne attorney representing the media outlets.
UW spokesman Chad Baldwin declined to comment beyond what was in the legal response.
The Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming Tribune Eagle and The Associated Press filed the lawsuit in state District Court in Laramie.
They contend that the public's right to know the finalists for such a high-profile job is "fundamental to the democratic process."
Under the process the UW board of trustees has adopted, search committees were to have a list of at least 12 candidates by now, and the candidates are to be narrowed to five finalists by the end of January. The trustees would then choose the new president in February. The public would not hear any names until the board announced the new president.
Baldwin said the search for a new president to replace Tom Buchanan, who is retiring next year, is on schedule.
The lawsuit has been assigned to Judge Jeffrey A. Donnell.