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NDUS chancellor: Open records laws should be limited in university presidential searches

GRAND FORKS, N.D.--When the next legislative session begins, North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott said he will ask lawmakers to limit the state's open records laws so applicants for college president jobs are only released when...

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FILE PHOTO: Chancellor Mark Hagerott of the North Dakota University System. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

GRAND FORKS, N.D.-When the next legislative session begins, North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott said he will ask lawmakers to limit the state's open records laws so applicants for college president jobs are only released when they become finalists.

Hagerott said Wednesday he would like to see the law changed because it discourages good candidates from applying to be president.

Hagerott's proposal would be to limit the release of applicants' names for university president until they become finalists, which he suggested would be the final 10 applicants.

"If we release the final 10 names, it's generally all positives for the candidate," he said.

How the law currently reads discourages strong applicants from applying because having their names publicized could jeopardize their current jobs and hurt their chances when they apply for other jobs, Hagerott said.

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When applicants' names are released, people can search their names on the internet-or get a Google alert sent to their inboxes-and know about it within minutes, Hagerott said. That can follow applicants for years if they do not end up getting the job.

"Someone outside sees a Google alert and says 'There must be something wrong with them,' when in reality it was just the wrong fit," Hagerott said.

In North Dakota, all government records are considered public, including job applications. If the state has a job opening-whether it be for the president of a university or a football coach-the public is entitled to know who applied for the job.

For the UND presidential search earlier this year, 43 people applied for the post, and three withdrew because of the impending open-records release, according to UND. The three who withdrew were a university president, a chancellor and a former executive vice chancellor, according to the summary of applicants.

"A lot them will go on to other things, and as much as I hate saying this, they have a brand," Hagerott said. "They're developing a brand as an educator, an innovator and whatnot. Maybe they eventually want to get back to their family in Maine or wherever someday. But if they get damaged by us, they just can't take that risk."

Hagerott joins State Board of Higher Education Chairwoman Kathleen Neset, former interim UND President Ed Schafer and many others across the state who believe the law should be changed to exempt the entire candidate pool subject from open records laws from the beginning.

In recent years, two bills attempting to restrict access to records identifying college president candidates have failed in the legislature.

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