Naming names

Mar 15, 2013 By Steven R. Peck

UW's new boss is demeaned by suggestions that better candidates could have been found if there were more secrecy

It is insulting to soon-to-be University of Wyoming president Robert Sternberg for legislators and university officials to be grumbling about a judge's ruling that required the names of UW's presidential finalists to be made public last month.

The university had decided earlier in the year not to reveal the names of the finalists, reversing a long-standing practice. It's the same thing local school districts have done many times, often introducing superintendency finalists at informal public meetings.

The new vow of secrecy at the state's only university didn't go over very well with the Wyoming news media. The Wyoming Press Association and the Wyoming Associated Press, both of which include The Ranger on their membership rosters, were among those who sued the university to make the names public -- and they won. UW was ordered by a district court judge to release the names, which it did very shortly before naming Sternberg.

Lots of griping accompanied the university's grudging compliance with the order, and it did a disservice to Sternberg.

UW's argument against reporting the names of the finalists was that "qualified" candidates wouldn't apply if they knew their names would be made public if they made the short list.

Imagine how that must make the incoming president feel. Was he not a "qualified" candidate? Does he take over under a cloud of uncertainty because his name was revealed ahead of time? Does the fact that citizens learned his identity brand him as unqualified? Has UW had to "settle" for him?

Sternberg has impeccable credentials and a sterling record of academic achievement and administrative leadership. He graduated summa cum laude from Yale as an undergraduate, then earned a Ph.D at Stanford. He was a Yale professor and later dean of arts and sciences at Tufts University (the best American university that most people have never heard of).

He is a globally recognized scholar and researcher in psychology and held the No. 2 administrative position at Oklahoma State University when UW hired him.

Is there something about Dr. Sternberg's qualifications that UW finds lacking simply because it had to reveal his name? That is at least part of the message being sent by these complaints about the disclosure rule.

A case of equal strength, or greater, could be made that the university ought to be proud to show the Wyoming public how strong its field of presidential applicants was.

The Wyoming Legislature then leapt into action, working hurriedly to pass a law saying not only that UW didn't have to publicize its finalists, but that it would be prohibited from doing so.

This concept strains credulity. What if an applicant didn't like the Wyoming school colors? Would we pass a law ordaining that the school switch from brown and gold to to black and blue so as not to discourage "qualified candidates"? What if the pay scale doesn't meet the requirements of some "qualified candidates"? Shall we pass a law raising it until it pleases everyone?

What if "qualified candidates" don't like the wallpaper in the president's office, or the parking space, or the box seats at the football stadium? Shall the Legislature step in?

The University of Wyoming is a publicly owned, land-grant university. It is supported primarily by tax money paid by Wyoming's citizens. It is our only university, public or private. Asking it to inform citizens of who it is considering for its presidency is reasonable. To hide that information adds to an increasing climate of secrecy in government inconsistent with the university's public mission.

Beyond that, it slaps the face of the eminently qualified Robert Sternberg to whine about qualified candidates being discouraged from applying because of this simple requirement. He, for one, brings spectacular qualifications to Wyoming, and the university ought to have trumpeted him ahead of time instead of working to hide him.

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