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VOL. 36 | NO. 14 | Friday, April 6, 2012




House to vote on confidential higher ed applicants

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NASHVILLE (AP) - A bill to make confidential the names of applicants to lead the state's two university systems and each public college or university hit a speed bump in the state House on Wednesday after easily clearing the Senate earlier in the week.

The vote on the measure sponsored by Republican House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga was put off until Thursday to address concerns raised on the floor.

"We have come a long way in Tennessee in higher education," said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley and a finalist to become president of the University of Tennessee in 2010. "And it certainly doesn't look good for transparency, for accountability, for open government to turn these searches secret."

McCormick said the bill would encourage more candidates to apply for the jobs without fear of hurting their current employment. He said the names of the three finalists would become public after the entire applic ant pool was vetted.

"The search firms feel like a lot of qualified and experienced candidates won't put their names in the hat if it's public right up front," McCormick said.

The bill would be a break with changes imposed under former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen to encourage greater transparency in higher education after scandals ended two presidencies of the University of Tennessee presidents. John Shumaker resigned in 2003 over disclosures of lavish spending and J. Wade Gilley left in 2001 amid allegations of a relationship with a subordinate.

The search for the next president was billed as the most open in the nation. It made the names of applicants and all committee meetings and interviews open to the public. The search led to the selection of John Petersen, though he resigned his presidency in 2009 after disagreements with board members over donors and other issues.

Petersen was succeeded by current President Joe DiPietro, the former chancellor of the UT Institute of Agriculture, in 2010.

The Board of Regents system has also seen its share of controversy over leadership. The Republican-led Senate Education Committee in 2010 conducted a probe of the board's hiring practices after it selected John Morgan, a chief Bredesen aide and former state comptroller, as chancellor.

The board selected Morgan after rewriting the job qualifications to fit his education level and experience and after he was the only candidate among six applicants to be interviewed for the job.

Fitzhugh noted that the current vacancy at Tennessee Tech has attracted 37 applicants and nine finalists who have been invited to the campus for tours and interviews.

"Under this bill they would have to come in the darkness and be escorted around when no students or anyone knew who they were," he said.

McCormick agreed to delay the bill on the request of Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, who asked to extend the public notice of finali sts' identities from seven days to 15 days.

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