That ‘secret search’ is in the headlines. Again.

When a certain Midwestern state university conducted a presidential search in relative secrecy last year, it rightfully drew criticism from news media and public records advocates everywhere (my summary here). And though none of these media outlets challenged the secret search in court, the university suffered great losses in the court of public opinion.

It was a PR disaster. But on the bright side, it’s one that a new president can use to guide future decisions.

Today, that same university broke another cardinal rule of public relations — and life: Let sleeping dogs lie. The search is over, the new president arrives in two weeks, and months of negative publicity are now yesterday’s news. It’s time to move on.

So why submit a forceful defense of its actions to the very newspaper that most criticized those actions? I won’t speculate.

The editorial board of that local newspaper responded to the university’s letter on the same editorial page: Public accountability for public universities. The editorial refutes, point by point, the arguments of the university’s Board chair and, in the process it exposes leadership that puts its own business above public accountability.

This large Midwestern university turns the page in July, when new leadership, and we hope, more enlightened leadership, takes over.

I didn’t use the university’s name in this post, as I don’t want to add to its image problem by generating more SEO. Nevertheless, it’s a teachable moment for all who practice public relations. Today’s rationalizations by the Board chair only further embarrasses those who value openness over secrecy in our public institutions.

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