Trustees of the state’s community colleges first learned they were included in House Bill 223 after reading a newspaper account about legislation making the University of Wyoming’s presidential search secret.
“We haven’t had any prior knowledge of the bill nor were we consulted,” said Jim Roth of Rock Springs, acting chairman of the Wyoming Association of Community College Trustees. “We were added ad hoc, so to speak.”
The bill, which is on a fast track in the Legislature, makes it legal for the university and community colleges to withhold information that would identify candidates for the job of president.
The UW trustees are in the middle of choosing a successor to President Tom Buchanan, who retires this summer, and voted earlier to keep the entire search process confidential.
Roth said the bill will make no difference to the trustees of the state’s seven community colleges, because their board policies have been to make public the college president finalists.
“We bring them to the campus. We invite the chamber of commerce, our faculty. We feel the stakeholders have to have a buy-in,” Roth said.
The university’s situation is a bit different, he added.
The community colleges are fairly neutral about the legislation because it doesn’t affect them in a practical sense.
The trustees advocacy committee understands the need for confidentiality early in the hiring process. But they believe they need to make the identities of candidates public at the end, Roth said.
None of the state’s community college trustees or the college presidents knew they were included in the bill.
“It was not a shock, but a surprise,” Roth said.
House Majority Floor Leader Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, said he included the colleges because, from his perspective, the colleges are hiring individuals in circumstances that seem to be the same or nearly similar to those of UW and they need the same protections.
Brown pointed out the bill’s language is a permissive “may,” which means community college officials are free to waive the protections provided by this bill if they wish.
The ruling of District Judge Jeff Donnell of Laramie reflects the policy of the community colleges. Donnell said the names of the university presidential finalist should be made public under the state’s open records law.
The judge made the ruling in a lawsuit filed by the Casper Star-Tribune, The Wyoming Tribune Eagle and The Associated Press challenging the UW trustees’ decisions close the search process to the public.
The bill would negate the court ruling.
“We have tried to stay out of taking sides pro or con regarding the university,” Roth said.
Matt Petry, deputy director of the Wyoming Community College Commission, added the agency was not asked to provide any input on the bill.
“It appears the bill primarily was drafted for the University of Wyoming, and community colleges were included as a secondary matter,” Petry said.