Guest column: Presidential search committee’s privacy is inexcusable

Jody Michael

In the Stater’s April 21 editorial, “The worst public transparency crisis since the last time around,” one particular quote deserves further response.

Presidential search committee member Owen Lovejoy is perhaps the most internationally acclaimed member of the Kent State faculty due to his anthropological work, but he clearly does not have similar experience with open-records laws. His excuse for the university’s refusal to release the names of the finalists for the presidency is not a valid justification.

“More than 50 percent of the candidates would not have applied for the job, maybe 75, had the search not been secret,” Lovejoy told the Stater.

But their wishes don’t matter. They don’t negate the fact that Ohio’s open-records laws require that entities funded by state taxes must be transparent in how they operate; the use of public money is public information.

If 75 percent of the candidates were demanding that Kent State violate those laws, then 75 percent of the candidates were unfit to be the president of a public university. I hope president-elect Beverly Warren was not among them.

Using Lovejoy’s logic, choosing the President of the United States should also be the responsibility of a small committee acting in secret rather than a publicly transparent process, since a lot more people would be willing to become candidates if nobody would ever find out that they campaigned but lost. Surely Lovejoy will start a petition for such an amendment to the Constitution any day now.

How do we get to the bottom of this scandal and ensure it never happens again? Since Kent State officials still refuse to release these records, despite people informing them that they’re wrong, I can think of only two ways to make them care.

One would be if enrollment and fundraising numbers began to decrease as a result. I would prefer this not happen because, although its leaders continue to show contempt for the students and taxpayers who provide their salaries, Kent State does offer students a great education.

Case in point: The students at the Daily Kent Stater, former colleagues of mine, have done an incredible job reporting on the privacy issues in the presidential search this year. However, I’d like to inform the university that this is not an ideal way to show off the excellence of its journalism school.

Our other option is to demand that someone take responsibility. If nobody with involvement in the search will release the records, President Lester Lefton should be demanding their release and punishing anyone complicit in the cover-up. If he refuses, the Board of Trustees should be taking action. If the trustees refuse, Gov. John Kasich should be threatening to fire the Board (which he appointed) and punish anyone complicit unless they release the records. If he refuses, voters should vote him out of office in November.

If that sounds like a severe reaction, keep in mind that we’re dealing with a clear violation of a law that is vital to Ohio citizens, who have an interest in knowing what’s going on in the public education system. Nobody with the power to do something about it is doing so. That is not acceptable.

—Jody Michael, Kent State Class of 2013, Crosby, N.D.