EDITORIAL: CSU should reveal finalists for Fresno State presidency

The public's business should not be conducted behind closed doors unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

We say this because secrecy is the enemy of good government. Secrecy harbors political dealmaking, rewards special interests and feeds public distrust. Secrecy is the currency of king-makers.

Yet, less than two weeks after Fresno State very publicly celebrated the culmination of its first universitywide fund-raising campaign -- an effort that brought in $214.22 million -- the search for the school's next president is being conducted in nearly absolute secrecy.

The reason given by the California State University system is that hiding the names of applicants attracts more experienced candidates. High-ranking officials at other universities, the system says, are less inclined to apply if they know that their aspirations will be made public.

That might be true. But it's also true that John Welty was chosen as Fresno State's president 22 years ago after a public process in which the community met the three finalists.

Moreover, Jeff Armstrong, the highly regarded president of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, was hired in December 2010 after he and two other finalists visited the campus and spoke publicly to students, faculty and community members.

Understand: An open process requires that candidates fully commit to the job they are seeking. It weeds out the tire-kickers and job-seekers simply looking for a bigger paycheck or a change of scenery.

On Friday, behind closed doors in a Los Angeles hotel, the six members of the CSU trustees' Fresno State search committee and a 13-member advisory committee will meet to decide the finalists in the competition to become Welty's successor.

The public deserves to know the names of the finalists. And the greater Fresno community deserves the opportunity to meet them in public forums before the trustees pick the president on May 21 or May 22.

Fresno resident Pete Mehas, chair of the CSU trustees' committee, and CSU Chancellor Timothy White have the option, under a 2011 CSU policy, of allowing the finalists to speak to the community on campus visits.

They should exercise that option and end this trust-eroding cloak of secrecy.