Editorial from The Plain Dealer

Kent State University has foolishly overshadowed the selection of Beverly Warren, provost of Virginia Commonwealth University, by conducting a top-secret search for a new president in which the university destroyed interview notes from the search committee and refused to release explicit documents, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.

The university chose Warren in January to replace retiring president Lester Lefton.

In its defense, university officials said they did nothing wrong. ”Kent State University neither has violated any public records laws nor has the university violated or failed to conform to any internal policy,” Kent State spokesman Eric Mansfield said in an e-mail to the Akron Beacon Journal. “We have turned over all records that are relevant.”

University spokeswoman Emily Vincent points out that the school released more than 500 pages of materials from 20 applicants – but, we must add, without the names of the applicants.

And the skimpy details on the invoices and bills mean that the public has to trust, not verify, that the university spent at least $250,000 appropriately, according to numbers compiled by the Akron paper.

That’s too much to ask.

Not only were confidential search documents shredded but Kent State’s general counsel, Willis Walker, told the Akron Beacon Journal that the documents were put under the control of the private executive search firm, Storbeck Pimentel and Associates of Media, Pa., to do with as they pleased.

Ohio’s public record laws are not optional. They should be obeyed by all public entities.

Yet, unlike the University of Akron and Youngstown State University, which embraced a spirit of openness in their presidential searches — revealing that former Ohio State University football coach and current UA Vice President Jim Tressel has applied for their top spots — Kent State has chosen to cling to a loophole.

The Ohio Supreme Court in 2010 ruled that the Cincinnati Board of Education could withhold superintendent applications from the public because the material had never been stored by the board members.

Yet technicalities aside, an institution that depends on public funding and the public’s good will should hesitate to trespass against Ohio’s Sunshine Law, which rightly demands that public institutions be open and accountable. Kent State should take note and then apologize to its students, faculty, staff and to the public for this omission.

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