A serious lapse by Board of Regents

A serious lapse by Board of Regents
We know we're about to utter some dangerous words here in Coyote country.

But we're feeling a bit sorry for our rival to the north, South Dakota State University.

The land grant institution of higher learning is going through a rather tough time right now, thanks to, of all people, the South Dakota Board of Regents.

SDSU is on the hunt for a new president. It's current head administrator, Peggy Miller, plans to step down soon after managing the affairs of the state's largest public university since 1998.

There's nothing unusual about that. College and university presidents retire all of the time.

But this has been a rather bizarre week up in Brookings.

Four finalists who want to eventually take over Miller's job were scheduled to meet with various groups on the SDSU campus yesterday (Thursday) and today. This gave them the opportunity to hob-knob with students, faculty, staff and alumni.

The regents initially warned one group of people, however, to steer clear of these meetings.

What radical group of troublemakers is so bothersome that they initially would be barred at the door to any public meetings with the presidential candidates?

The answer is simple. It's those rabble rousers. More specifically, members of the news media.

"The media is not part of the process," regents executive director Tad Perry said in an Argus Leader story last week. "There is no role for the media or public at large to provide input to the board. There is no value added as part of the deliberations."

"We published the names (of the candidates), that's no secret," the regents president, Harvey Jewett, said in an Argus Leader story Tuesday. "We published the resumes, and everyone is free to Google them."

We'd rather reserve Googling to discovering things of a more inanimate nature, such as Martha Stewart's favorite chicken noodle soup recipe.

For the regents to think that 1) the media is not part of the process and 2) reporters can discover everything they want to know about a university presidential candidate's philosophies on higher education and funding and enrollment growth and the future in general from a computer screen is, well, crazy.

The regents would have done well by following Vermillion's example a couple years ago when we needed a city manager. The applicants were narrowed to four. Those four people met in a public forum, in a packed room, before one, plain old simple group of people. The public.

Each candidate was given time to talk about his philosophies and background before answering questions. At the end of the evening, the public was asked to fill out forms to provide input to the city council.

The end result? The hiring of John Prescott, whose work from his Vermillion City Hall office shows he excels in managing the affairs of a municipality.

There's a somewhat happy ending to all of the turmoil in Brookings this week. The Collegian, the SDSU student newspaper, legally challenged the regents' decision to exclude the press from the on-campus meetings. Jeremy Fugleberg, editor of the Collegian, noted Tuesday that he was prepared to ask a judge for an order that would seek to block the regents from forcibly removing reporters or preventing them from covering the candidate interviews.

Circuit Judge Rodney Steele demonstrated Wednesday that he has more common sense than our regents. He granted a temporary restraining order. In other words, he told the regents to knock it off, and open the constituent group meetings with the four finalists for the SDSU presidency to members of the news media.

According to an announcement released by the regents Wednesday afternoon, the court's order pertained specifically to student journalists and forums in which students have been invited to meet with the final candidates for the position of SDSU president. However, the regents will open any constituent group meeting to news media representatives for the SDSU presidential search.

We've already commented about other suspicious activity by the regents, like the recent change of the name of USDSU in Sioux Falls to something so obscure that many people will eventually forget that USD is playing a role in providing instruction there ? almost as if that's the eventual plan.

We're glad the meetings in Brookings were opened to all, including the media, which will play an important role by informing all South Dakotans of the characterstics of the four finalists, while keeping watch over the regents.

This cloak-and-dagger act by the regents is rather mysterious. Their lapse in judgement is hard to fathom, and we fear what it could eventually mean for USD.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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