A college education is expensive no matter what school a student attends, but tuitions vary greatly, primarily based on the prestige and reputation certain institutions have attained. Schools’ reputations can change, however, based on the quality of its administration; accreditation problems or scandals could make students think twice about attending a certain college or university.
So it’s important for the public to know all it can about the people who manage institutions of higher learning — both the communities in which those institutions operate and students looking to make the best investment in their future.
The Texas Southmost College Board of Trustees in Brownsville offered a prime example of how the employment process should be conducted last year, when it announced four finalists for the position of president and invited them to public forums where they could address the community and answer any questions. Other institutions should follow this example.
State Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, wants universities to provide more information about their top applicants. We hope his colleagues also appreciate the need for transparency and support his proposal.
Texas law traditionally has been among the strongest in the nation in supporting government transparency and defending the public’s right to know what its tax-funded institutions are doing. That doesn’t apply to all aspects of public education, however.
Schools and universities in the state are required to name the finalists for the position of chief executive officer for public schools and colleges — superintendents, chancellors and presidents, for example — at least 21 days before voting to offer a contract. The law is intended to provide time to conduct background checks and review their work history.
Many institutions, however, mock the law by announcing a single finalist, then waiting out the three-week vetting period, even though the hire is a foregone conclusion when the announcement is first made.
Some states require that the names of all applicants be disclosed. Officials say schools in those states receive fewer applications, raising the chance that better candidates might not apply because they don’t want their current employers to know they’ve applied. The argument is difficult to accept, however, since any thorough background check should include a call to those institutions.
Menendez has filed Senate Bill 275, which would require institutions of higher education to name at least two finalists for the position of chief executive officer.
To be sure, the requirement would still allow abuse; regents or trustees could offer as their second finalist someone who clearly is less qualified than their top choice, or get a finalist to agree to withdraw his or her application after the announcement has been made. Still, we hope institutions will opt for honesty and openness, and decide that if they must release at least two names, then they should disclose all those who were seriously considered.
Higher education these days can cost as much as a house, and Texas families’ right to make sure they have the information they need to make the best decisions is paramount. State lawmakers should recognize that right, and improve reporting requirements regarding the people who run their educational institutions.