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THE PROCESS of searching for a new president of the University at Buffalo is not off to an auspicious start. The man who will select the search committee said he won't reveal the members' names and that the panel "will be composed and acting in secrecy."

Sensibly enough, M. Robert Koren, chairman of the UB Council, seeks representation on the committee by university-related groups like faculty, students and alumni.

But that seems to define his outer boundaries for public input. Koren sees no reason to make the general public aware of the names of panel members or the ongoing process.

Even if he can't, we can. This is not a private university supported financially and otherwise by a cloistered clique of wealthy alumni. It is, lest we forget, the largest of public campuses within the State University of New York. Year in and year out, the taxpayers support it with millions and millions of their public dollars. UB's faculty, administrators, students and massive construction program are all heavily subsidized or wholly paid for by these New Yorkers.

It just could be that those same taxpayers would like to know about the search process, who is conducting it, how it is coming, what standards and priorities the committee is looking for among candidates and when it will all be concluded.

Koren, who worked on two prior UB presidential searches, says he will act as sole spokesman for the new group. It sounds as though he will be something akin to gatekeeper of the news. Would-be candidates for president, he said, sometimes withdraw if their names are inadvertently leaked to the media.

Maybe that's just as well. If a serious candidate for the UB presidency is so thin-skinned that he or she can be derailed by an unwanted leak of information, then that person may not be appropriate to handle the the rough-and-tumble responsibilities at this sprawling, divided, publicly supported campus.

The council and Koren ought to reconsider the wisdom and propriety of close-to-the-vest secrecy in this search for a successor to Steven P. Sample, who resigns effective March 31. This is a public university. The search process requires more fresh air and openness than is now contemplated.

Once a successor to Sample is tentatively identified and recommended to SUNY trustees for approval, the council will be looking for broadened support for its choice. That support should come in part from a public that has not been excluded.

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