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Wyoming Senate panel advances UW president search bill

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Politics,Education,Associated Press,Wyoming,Higher Education

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- The Senate Education Committee endorsed a bill Friday that would allow the selection of University of Wyoming and state community college presidents to be closed to the public, despite the expressed desire by some UW faculty members to have a greater say in the selection process.

The unanimous vote by the panel sends House Bill 223 to the full Senate for debate. The bill has already passed the state House of Representatives.

Proponents of the bill argue the university could attract more quality candidates in a closed search process. Opponents contend an open process could be helpful in making the right choice.

The bill was proposed after several Wyoming media outlets protested the decision by the UW Board of Trustees to hold a confidential search for a new president to replace President Tom Buchanan, who is retiring this year.

A state district judge in Laramie ruled last month in a lawsuit filed by the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming Tribune Eagle and The Associated Press that the UW trustees must disclose the finalists for the university's next president.

The trustees are considering several options on how to proceed, including an appeal to the Wyoming Supreme Court, but HB223 would settle the issue because it would become law immediately if passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

On Friday, for the first time since the bill was proposed, UW faculty members testified on the proposal.

Jeanne Holland, associate professor of English at UW, and two other UW faculty members said they would like to be more involved in vetting the candidates for president.

"This is going to be my boss," Holland said. "So I think that openness is essential here."

UW veterinary science professor Donal O'Toole said an open search process may not result in the best candidates but it will remove any suspicion that may arise from a president selected in a secret search.

"I always tell my students after calving season leave the barns open, a little bit of sunlight is the most effective disinfectant," O'Toole said. "And I think these folks coming in need to be looked at closely."

But others noted that the UW Faculty Senate recently defeated a resolution opposing the confidential search.

Committee member Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, and a UW instructor, said he considers the Faculty Senate the voice of the faculty.

In addition, Rothfuss and other members of the committee said since the search began as a confidential process it wouldn't be fair to the candidates to suddenly make it public.

"It's our university, it's our voice, we as the Legislature have to stand by that," he said. "I feel like we have to keep that promise."

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