CHEYENNE — The University of Wyoming Board of Trustees must disclose the finalists for the university’s next president after they get that short list of names from a search committee, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Albany County District Judge Jeffrey Donnell ordered the trustees to release the names, current employers and dates when each finalist is scheduled to visit the university. The list of the five or more finalists is due to trustees on or after Feb. 5.
Donnell’s order came in a decision that sided with the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming Tribune Eagle and The Associated Press, which sued to release the names.
The decision favoring a public process was not final, however. The trustees might appeal to the Wyoming Supreme Court, board President Dave Bostrom said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Wyoming lawmakers are considering a bill that would specify that searches for UW president and the state’s community colleges would be closed to the public.
“That bill would be effective on the date that it’s passed and signed by the governor. Hopefully we can head this off,” said Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie and House majority floor leader.
Brown said many people in academia can’t apply for new positions without the promise of confidentiality. He said they would face retaliation from their current employers if it were known they had tried to jump ship.
The two Wyoming newspapers and the global wire service sued last fall to open up a process that otherwise would be secret until the trustees announced their choice to lead the state’s only public university.
Trustees argued that a closed search encourages more applicants, but the media outlets said it violated Wyoming’s open record law and did not serve the interest of Wyoming citizens to have a clear view of the entire process.
Bruce Moats, the Cheyenne attorney who represented the newspapers and wire service, praised the decision.
“The owners of this university have a right to know what’s going on when it comes to the finalists for the leader of this university, and it’s difficult to outweigh that public interest,” Moats said.
Most searches for a UW president over the past 25 years have disclosed the finalists, Moats said, including the search for the current president. In 2006, many university faculty members objected when they found out that interim President Tom Buchanan wasn’t on the list of finalists.
Buchanan was added to the list and got the job. He now plans to step down at the end of this summer.
“By all accounts (especially the testimony from the President of the Board of Trustees, Mr. Bostrom), Dr. Buchanan has performed very well as President of UW,” Donnell wrote in his decision. “In fact, Mr. Bostrom called Dr. Buchanan’s leadership ‘exemplary’ and testified that the Board wished it could have refused Dr. Buchanan’s resignation.”
Bostrom’s statement expressed disappointment that the trustees had been told to release the names.
“We believe the university presented a compelling case that identifying finalists would cause substantial injury to the public interest by significantly reducing the pool of candidates,” he said.
Two or three candidates from the current group of 15 semifinalists likely would withdraw from consideration if their names are going to be released, the trustees told Donnell. The judge questioned whether that would be a significant loss.
“It is not a ‘substantial injury’ to the Board’s ability to find a qualified president,” Donnell wrote.