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Sen. Curt Friesen

Sen. Curt Friesen

District 34

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Weekly Column

February 26th, 2016

Now that the deadline for designation of priority bills has passed, we can start looking ahead to the bills that we will be addressing the last half of our short session. One of the bills that has already drawn some attention from the press is a bill that would require the University of Nebraska to publicly release just one finalist for top leadership jobs. This bill was advanced from the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee and was designated a priority by Senator Burke Harr of Omaha.

LB 1109 updates the current search process used by the Board of Regents regarding the University of Nebraska President or campus Chancellor positions.  It also accomplishes the following:

  • Establishes a 30-day public vetting period for a single priority candidate for President or Chancellor prior to any action by the Board of Regents on the candidate’s appointment;
  • Provides for a public vetting process for the priority candidate that includes the candidate’s application materials and mandated participation in public forums at each of the University campuses, in which the University affiliates, news media and members of the public can participate and provide input;
  • Streamlines the search process to be more consistent with those of other Big Ten institutions, whom Nebraska competes with for top talent; and
  • Removes unnecessary limitations for highly sought after candidates to enter the search process for President or Chancellor, including impediments to confidentiality that heavily recruited candidates have said would preclude them from entering into a search process.

The bill would specifically exempt the University from current public records law, which requires that four finalists be named.  Only a single priority candidate, and his or her application, resume and other documents, would be announced under the provisions of LB 1109.

Proponents of LB 1109, including University President Hank Bounds, feel the bill balances solving a problem the University faces in attracting the best candidates while maintaining an open selection process.  During the public hearing, President Bounds said the candidate pool of applicants for replacing University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman, was a fraction of the size of what he expected, and blamed the low number on the public process.  The bill’s introducer, Sen. John Murante said numerous candidates won’t even apply for leadership positions because they would be outed as a finalist, putting their current jobs at risk.

Opponents, including Sen. Beau McCoy, a member of the Government Committee who voted against advancing the bill, said he takes issue with naming just one finalist because that doesn’t allow Nebraskans to compare the candidates.  That breeds secrecy, he said.

Sen. Mike Groene, also a member of the Committee has vowed to fight LB 1109, arguing that the proposal goes in the opposite direction of the public’s increasing demand for more government openness.  He said, transparency in government is never a wrong choice.

I think we need to look at the entire hiring process when looking at the merits of this bill. Currently we elect our Board of Regents, whose job is to oversee our university system, in a very public election. Should we not trust this group plus the many others involved in the selection process? Maybe we need to look at the makeup of the current committee that does the selection, but I do believe we should trust this group to make the initial selection.

One of the main issues is whether we are attracting the best qualified candidates. If I was currently happily working at a great company but felt that I could no longer grow my career and I applied at another firm but I did not get that position, would I want my old company to know that I was thinking of leaving? I really think that we could attract more qualified candidates if we didn’t disclose the names of those who come in second. Making the names public subjects them to the possibility of losing their current job when they may be perfectly content to stay and only thought of leaving because it would have been the opportunity of a lifetime or a chance to really grow their career.

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Sen. Curt Friesen

District 34
Room #1110
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2630
Email: cfriesen@leg.ne.gov
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