WYOMING — The University of Wyoming’s Board of Trustees has decided it will release the names of its presidential search finalists after a months-long fight to keep them private.
In January, a district court judge ruled the names had to be released, but the university called on the court to “alter or amend” that ruling after a state law was passed days later that protected documents related to presidential searches, said Chad Baldwin, the university’s director of institutional communications.
Baldwin said today the school is withdrawing its motion. That will bring an end to the litigation that began in November, when The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, The Casper Star-Tribune and the Associated Press filed a lawsuit seeking access to documents that would reveal the finalists’ names.
“I think we’re happy because this is confirmation of what we’d always said is that it is possible to have a public search and get good candidates,” Casper Star-Tribune Editor Darrell Ehrlick said. “That’s always been our argument, is that the two are not mutually exclusive.”
The university’s trustees felt that ongoing litigation could jeopardize the school’s promise to keep candidates’ names confidential, Baldwin said.
“They believe that the strong pool of applicants, which was 88, was in large measure a result of that confidential process and they would have preferred to continue under that process, but the realities of timeliness and needing to proceed prompted this change,” Baldwin said.
The search committee identified eight semi-finalists and told the judge in January it would pick five finalists. After the judge’s ruling, four withdrew from consideration, Baldwin said. He said he’s uncertain how many finalists’ names will be released, but that he expects an announcement in the coming days.
“Ultimately the public won,” said Bruce Moats, an attorney for the media who filed the original lawsuit. “They’re going to get to be involved, at least to some extent, in the selection.”
However, with the new state law in place, the media may have to continue fighting for access to presidential search-related documents in the future.
“If they did decide to go the confidential route, it could mean the newspapers are back fighting the same issues,” Ehrlick said.
The new law allows records to be withheld “on the ground that disclosure to the applicant would be contrary to the public interest.” Moats said the district court’s ruling shows that releasing the documents does not harm the public interest.
“We would assert that in the future,” he said.
By Sara Tirrito, SPLC staff writer. Contact Tirrito by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 124.