Forum editorial: Move would be OK change for open recordsThe public’s interest is not served, nor is North Dakota’s open records law compromised, by keeping confidential the initial list of candidates for vacant university presidencies.
The public’s interest is not served, nor is North Dakota’s open records law compromised, by keeping confidential the initial list of candidates for vacant university presidencies. Senate Bill 2087, which passed the Senate, went to the House and has since been amended. It would grant an exception in the open records law in a very narrow and specific way. The exception is reasonable and could result in a better selection process for university presidents.
From a news perspective, a long list of applicants for a campus job is virtually meaningless because all but a few will become finalists. The legislation as amended would define finalist and the number of finalists, and at that point applicants would become public.
The concern about changing the law with regard to college presidents is the “slippery slope” argument. If an exception is good for college presidents, then why not for other high profile public education jobs?
The significant difference is that college presidents usually come from a national pool of applicants, many of whom need to keep their interest in a North Dakota job confidential from their current employer until the finalist stage. University system officials contend the pool would be larger and attract more highly qualified individuals if the initial applications were not public. That is a compelling argument that cannot be dismissed.
Secondly, there is little, if any, news value in a list of, say, 84 candidates for a job at one of the state’s big campuses — especially when the serious candidates will be identified publically long before a final selection is made by the State Board of Higher Education.
Open records are important in North Dakota — almost a sacred trust. But reasonable exceptions are in law now (juvenile court proceedings, proprietary business information, certain personnel files and lawyer-public client data, to name a few). A college presidential search exception would not erode the open records tradition. The bill, properly amended, should win full legislative approval and be signed by the governor.
— Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and
the newspaper’s Editorial Board.