Monday, January 28, 2013

Lack of Transparency

Not only is UGA searching for a new president, but the Grady College where I work is also seeking a new dean.

Interesting stuff.  I'm gonna talk about the latter.

Grady is a college of journalism and mass communication, a place where transparency -- at least theoretically -- should be the standard, the default, the go-to position.  The reality has always been, at best, disappointing.  But in the search for our new dean, thanks to the fuzziness of Georgia's okay-but-not-great sunshine law, the present search manages to be as non-transparent as possible.  They're following the letter, but not the spirit, of the law.

Let me explain.  Georgia law allows searches for the "executive head of an agency" in Georgia, including "units" of the University of Georgia, to operate pretty much in the black.  In other words, the public's business is not exactly conducted in the public eye (the spirit of the law).  As O.C.G.A. 50-18-72(a)(7) outlines, a search can choose to keep secret who applies for a wide assortment of jobs in local and state government, including UGA, until such time the search chooses to name the finalists.

The theory is that by having a search open to the public, good people won't apply.  Never mind how bullshit that argument really is.  Show me the evidence this is true, not just that you think it is.  If you're applying to a journalism and mass comm school and you're afraid of transparency, don't apply to a journalism and mass comm program.  Try the business school.

The news hook?  Last Thursday and Friday a group of candidates for the Grady deanship, somewhere between seven and 10 folks, went through "Skype interviews."  From that pool the search committee will probably recommend three or four to publicly visit and pitch their wares to Grady and the UGA administration.  We may know the "finalists" in the next few days. Stay tuned.

A word about "finalists" and Georgia law.  Often, searches for a school superintendent will name only one "finalist" for consideration, keeping all the other names secret.  In other words, violating not just the spirit of the law but taking behind the schoolhouse and beating the ever-living crap out of it.   

They'd never get away with this kind of bullshit in a UGA dean or president search, or at least you'd like to think so.  And there's no reason why a dean search cannot be transparent.  The law allows you to be completely open if you choose to be.  The recent search for the dean of the University of Florida's journalism school was completely open, as required by state law, including details on every person who applied and complete transparency along the way.  Whether or not you're happy with the outcome (full disclosure: Diane McFarlin, a former boss of mine a million years ago, got the job), is another matter.  Let's give her the benefit of the doubt.  She needs it.  The point is just down south at a similar program they conducted a completely open search and, best I can tell, it suffered not at all in its pool of applicants.

It's a friggin journalism and mass comm program.  We can do better, especially when our motto has to do with something about training democracy's next generation.

Or perhaps democracy should be in quotation marks.

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