ACOG subcommittee to meet on Friday to review college president search confidentiality

A subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on Open Government will meet on Friday to review a 2018 change in the law that expanded confidentiality for college president candidates at state colleges.

The subcommittee will meet at 3 p.m. Friday via a Webex conference call. The public may attend with this link. The subcommittee has been asked to discuss the effectiveness of the 2018 amendment to the higher education executive search statute (Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-7-154) in preparation of a report from ACOG to the governor and speakers of the House and Senate.

2018 law expanded confidentiality of finalist candidates

In 2018, the Legislature expanded the confidentiality of college president searches by allowing search committees to reveal only their top candidate for the position. Previously, college search committees were required to make public at least the three final candidates.

Gov. Bill Haslam had sought the change in the law. The reasoning was that some of the best applicants would not apply if their name became public in a pool of three finalists. They feared their public candidacy would hurt them in their current position if they did not get the job.

The change affected searches for:

  • president of the University of Tennessee system (1 position);
  • president of locally governed state universities (6 positions);
  • president of the state’s community colleges (13 positions); and
  • president or director of Tennessee colleges of applied technology (27 positions).

At the time, Joe DiPietro had announced he was leaving the position as president of the University of Tennessee system. Under the previous law, any searches for his replacement would have to result in three publicly named finalists. Randy Boyd, a former candidate for governor, was eventually named president of the University of Tennessee system.

The 2018 provision in the law came with the stipulation that it would be repealed on July 1, 2021. Prior to its appeal, the law stated that the Advisory Committee on Open Government must submit a report to the governor, the speakers of the senate and the speaker of the house of representatives “evaluating the impact and effectiveness” of the new provision and “identifying considerations and recommendations relative to its continuation, revision, or expiration.”

The Advisory Committee on Open Government is a 14-member committee established by the General Assembly in 2018. It is made up of representatives of citizen, news media and government groups who are appointed by the Comptroller’s Office.

The co-chairs of the committee, Adam Yeomans of The Associated Press and Kathryn Strong of the County Officials Association, tasked a subcommittee to meet and discuss the 2018 law change in preparation for the report.

On the subcommittee are Carey Whitworth representing the University of Tennessee, Jack McElroy representing the Tennessee Press Association and Deborah Fisher representing Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.

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