Editorial, 12/1: It's hard to show that new law made NU presidential search better

Editorial, 12/1: It's hard to show that new law made NU presidential search better

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In 2016, the Nebraska Legislature carved out an exemption from the state’s public records laws to allow the University of Nebraska to name a single finalist for the positions of president and chancellor rather that present a list of four finalists for the NU’s top positions.

The change, the regents argued, was needed to attract top candidates, who wouldn’t apply for the positions if their names became public. And they offered assurances that the single candidate could be properly evaluated in a month-long period before the person could be hired.

As the 30-day period for evaluating the regents' candidate for NU president ends, it has become clear that nothing could be further from reality.

For the last month, Ted Carter, the former superintendent of the U.S Naval Academy, the “priority candidate” unanimously endorsed by the search committee and the regents, has been being “vetted,” by Nebraskans, attending 35 public forums that attracted more than 2,500 attendees. The amount of exposure to Carter has been admirable.

But, as the faculty members of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Nebraska at Omaha discovered, that meet-and-greet process is not sufficient to determine whether Carter was the best candidate to run the university system. So the American Association of University Professors will not be offering an opinion on whether Carter should become the university’s eighth president.

“With only one candidate presented to the campuses and to the public, instead of the traditional four, it is impossible to reach a conclusion regarding the acceptability of Vice Admiral Carter’s candidacy,” the AAUP statement reads. “Without the ability to compare one candidate to another, meaningful feedback on whether the priority candidate is the best candidate for the position is impossible.”

That is indisputable, and it was obvious three years ago when the Legislature made its decision to allow the change in the system.

Previous searches for top administrators, including former NU President Hank Bounds, who Carter is to replace, and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green, were chosen from among four finalists, after each had met with students, faculty, staff and other Nebraskans -- a process that worked well for all involved.

Ironically, Carter told the Journal Star’s Chris Dunker that he would have been willing to go through a four-candidate process. It’s unfortunate Carter didn’t get that opportunity, both for him and all of Nebraska.

The regents will undoubtedly formally hire Carter and pay him as much as $1.2 million a year to run the university. Like the AAUP, the Journal Star editorial board offers no position on his hiring other than to wish him well as he takes on the job Jan. 1.

But we do suggest that the 2016 open records law revision be reversed, with a return to a four-finalist selection process, so the best candidates for the public university’s top positions can be chosen in full view of -- and with the true endorsement -- of Nebraskans.

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