Lawsuits follow Alexander’s selection as LSU system president

The Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors concluded its search for an LSU system president on March 27, selecting Cal State Long Beach President F. King Alexander for the role.

Four days later, the Board faced two lawsuits for its search.

The Advocate, a newspaper in Baton Rouge, La., and the editor of LSU’s student newspaper, The Daily Reveille, each filed lawsuits on April 1 against the Board and its chair, claiming the Board violated Louisiana’s Public Records Law by withholding the names of applicants for the LSU system president position.

Andrea Gallo, editor-in-chief of The Daily Reveille, said when the student newspaper submitted a public records request for the names of the applicants, the request was denied.

“When the search started, we started requesting just verbally any details we could get on the search … and most of it, they wouldn’t give it to us,” Gallo said.

According to Lori Mince, an attorney for Capital City Press, The Advocate faced similar issues with its inquiries for the applicants’ names.

“The Advocate had been following the search and had made some requests for information about who was being considered, and were being told that this information is not required to be released,” Mince said.

According to Louisiana’s Public Records Law, “the name of each applicant for a public position of authority or … with policymaking duties … shall be available for public inspection, examination, copying, or reproduction.”

However, the Board engaged a Texas-based search firm, R. William Funk and Associates, to collect a pool of applicants for the LSU system president position, according to Gallo’s lawsuit. The firm is “dedicated to higher education search consulting,” according to its website.

On March 11, two weeks before Alexander was selected as LSU system president, Gallo received denial letters to her public records request, according to her lawsuit. The Board told Gallo that the documents she requested were in possession of R. William Funk and Associates; the search firm, in turn, claimed that as a private entity, it is not subject to the Public Records Law.

“LSU essentially, to skirt around the Public Records Law, took its hands off of [the search] as much as possible,” Gallo said.

However, in a letter denying Gallo’s request for the applicants’ names, Jimmy R. Faircloth Jr., counsel for LSU, said Gallo’s suggestion that the Board attempted to evade the Public Records Law is “completely misdirected.”

“The Board followed a process that has become standard practice nationally in the higher education community,” Faircloth said.

Gallo’s petition, though, argues that because the records sought are actually those of LSU and not of R. William Funk and Associates, the records are considered public under the Public Records Law.

According to LSU Media Relations Director Ernie Ballard, LSU’s Presidential Search Committee and the Board don’t plan on releasing the applicants’ names anytime soon.

Herb Vincent, LSU associate vice chancellor for university relations, said in a statement that keeping the applicants’ names confidential was in the best interest of LSU and the applicants themselves.

“LSU feels strongly it should respect those who were potential candidates for the position of LSU President and does not wish to cause them harm with their existing employers by revealing their names,” Vincent said in the statement. “To do so would severely inhibit LSU’s ability to identify top candidates in future searches, which does not serve the university or the people of Louisiana well in any circumstance.”

Alexander said that if his name would have been released in the process, he would not have applied to become LSU’s system president.

“I’ve had colleagues who have actually come out, and they’ve been a finalist at a university, and then when they’ve gone back to their respective campuses, they’ve had no support,” Alexander said. “The one thing that you don’t want to lose in this position is your local support, your campus support, your board support and/or chancellor support.”

Gallo said via email that the lawsuit is not intended to discredit Alexander.

“It’s really about the process that LSU used to find its presidential candidate, and we probably would have done this regardless of who was named our next president,” Gallo said. “Our problem is with the search process, not necessarily with the results it yielded.”

The hearing dates for The Advocate’s and Gallo’s lawsuits have been scheduled for April 25 and April 30, respectively.

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