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Lawmaker: Close Presidential Searches

Most of the recruiting for university presidents would be done behind closed doors if a Central Florida lawmaker has his way.

The move to bring presidential searches at public colleges and universities behind closed doors comes a few months after the naming of Florida State University President John Thrasher raised a storm of protest.

Supporters say Florida’s aggressive public records laws scare away applicants who don’t want their bosses to know they’re looking elsewhere. But open government advocates argue that it hasn’t been a problem with previous searches.

“To say that we’re not getting the best and the brightest seems to me to fly in the face of those who people who have stepped forward and have been elected, or selected,” said the First Amendment Foundation’s Barbara Petersen.

The bill, sponsored  by Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, would keep the names, credentials and salaries of most candidates secret. The public wouldn’t know the final candidates until 10 days before the winner is named. The bill also applies to university provosts and deans.

A secrecy law would have spared FSU considerable embarrassment.

Critics charged that the process was rigged in favor of Thrasher, a former state senator, House speaker and lobbyist with powerful political connections.

Public records unearthed by the Associated Press included an e-mail from a consultant who wrote that the university was trying to “concoct” a search process that would end with Thrasher’s selection.