The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council is deeply opposed to a change to Wisconsin's open records law that was inserted into the budget late last week by the Joint Finance Committee. It passed on a party-line vote of 12-4, with Republicans in the majority.
The change, part of Omnibus Motion #521, Item 14, P. 3, would exempt the UW from the requirement in place for all other state agencies with regard to naming the finalists for key positions. The UW would still have to reveal those applicants whose names are "submitted for final consideration to an authority for appointment," but it would be spared from having to identify the five most qualified applicants, or each applicant if there are fewer than five.
Moreover, the change limits this disclosure requirement to only the following positions: UW System president and vice presidents, and the chancellor and vice chancellors for each campus.
Current law, at 19.36(7) of the state statutes, applies to all state positions not in the classified service.
This is a major change in state open records law that will keep the public, state legislators included, from knowing what applicants were passed up for important university positions, including coaches and top administrators.
For instance, the UW would apparently no longer have to release the names of finalists to head the University of Wisconsin Press, as it did in January. Before the final selection was made, the two top finalists made public presentations regarding their vision for this important institution. Isn't that an example of how the process should work?
It is baffling why lawmakers, who have been critical of the UW in other instances, would want to free it from the burden of minimal accountability. Who is behind this change and why do they think it is needed? (As of this writing, UW System spokesman Alex Hummel has not provided additional information or perspective, as requested on Monday.)
We hope this is an issue that you look into and editorialize about. Unless or until there is a full public airing of the need for this change, it should be pulled from the budget or vetoed by the governor.