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The Penn State search: Sunlight, please

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Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

Just in case you were under the impression that the search for a new Penn State University president in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal somehow is some great exercise in transparency, consider this:

Stung by criticism from its own board of trustees that the process to find a successor to booted President Graham Spanier, awaiting trial for allegedly covering up the scandal, was the definition of “opaque,” top Penn State officials repaired to the basement conference room of an on-campus hotel to discuss the matter in a closed executive session.

Talk about tone-deaf.

Penn State supposedly was set to name its new president last week. But when some of the newest members of the board at large began to raise a stink about the process — a secretive affair involving a 12-trustee selection committee — the university delayed the announcement.

The clear impression is that the committee expected a rubber stamp from the full board and, when challenged, didn't like the possibility of being stained with its own ink pad.

Board Chairman Keith Masser, a selection committee member, defends the confidential search process as necessary to attract “the best and most qualified and extraordinary candidates.” No, it's not. And there are plenty of examples nationwide of far more open selection processes.

In normal times, a full and open search in which a number of finalists visit the campus, meet the public and even participate in question-and-answer sessions is wise. In difficult times, such as what's now going on at Penn State, such a process should be an imperative.

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