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Public to be kept out of the loop when selecting university officials?

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The next time a college or university is looking to hire a new president, dean or provost, the public may not have any information on who is being considered until the very end of the hiring process. The legislation was up in for its final Senate Committee hearing Thursday afternoon, but lawmakers decided to take some more time. 

Similar legislation in the House has two more committee stops. A state college was looking for a new president until Wednesday night, when Pasco Hernando State College selected Timothy Beard to be its fourth president.

Four state colleges in Florida are currently looking for new presidents. The application process is open and public, in part because to many, naming a college president is a big deal.

In the case of Florida State University's recently-selected president, John Thrasher, several months passed from his application to his selection, allowing opponents plenty of time to voice their thoughts.

But legislation at the Capitol would make searches for presidents, provosts and deans secret until finalists are announced -- or maybe just one finalist is announced. You would never know who applied.

"We will have a much broader applicant pool to choose from if we assure them the initial applications would be held in confidence," said Sen. Alan Hays.

Open government said the legislation implies that former residents, such as T.K. Wetherell, weren't the best of the best.

The First Amendment Foundation said the legislation could also set a bad precedent when it comes to other top government jobs.

"Why not school superintendents or county managers or city attorneys?" said Barbara Peterson of the First Amendment Foundation.

"I think it was an open process for me. I think pretty open," Thrasher said. "Hey, I'm agnostic about it. I think, to me, it's not a problem. I think you're going to get good people."

As a state senator, Thrasher often supported keeping records out of public view.

A full Senate vote could come next week.