Public Process

Members of the West Virginia University at Parkersburg presidential search committee may have opened more to the public eye than they intended this week, when they began a discussion about just how much they were legally allowed to keep from us. West Virginia’s Secretary of Commerce, Keith Burdette, poorly advised the board against releasing the names of applicants for the position prematurely, claiming it was a “personnel matter, and it has some protections.”

Revealing the names of those who hope to run West Virginia University at Parkersburg – a very public post – is certainly not an invasion of privacy, nor is it unreasonable. It would have been in the public’s, and the university’s, best interest to do so.

As board member Jamie Six pointed out, releasing the names would have given WVU-P an advantage.

“You may have a bad apple apply,” he said. “They don’t want the people that know they’re a bad apple to know they applied.”

Now, because board members attempted to obscure part of what should have been a public process, it will receive even greater scrutiny. Though they tried to cobble together a compromise by claiming they would discuss and vote on the applicants in open session, using numbers (which, of course, implies at least enough private discussion to label the applicants with numbers), they will not provide names until the pool has been reduced to semifinalists. Even then, the names must be requested.

When Bruce Walker, general counsel for the Higher Education Policy Commission and the West Virginia Community and Technical College System advised the board to keep the process confidential, he essentially advised them to start down a slippery slope of attempting to make the university’s operations more opaque.

Surely board members with as much political experience as Burdette has will quickly realize that is a mistake.