No final decision on search process for next UM System president

The UM System Board of Curators discussed potentially using an open, closed or hybrid model for the search.

The search for the next UM System president will be largely closed with the potential for public input at the end, but a final decision from the Board of Curators is expected at their Feb. 4-5 meeting.

At a special meeting Wednesday, the board talked about how to proceed with the search. The public meeting was preceded by a closed session in which the board discussed personnel matters, Chairwoman Pamela Henrickson said. Five curators were present.

“The most important thing we can do is doing a good job on (the search),” Curator John Phillips said at the end of the meeting.

Mike Middleton, former MU deputy chancellor and faculty member, is currently serving as the system’s interim president. Former President Tim Wolfe resigned on Nov. 9, 2015 amid student protests and graduate student Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike.

Curator David Steelman said that because of those events, he is “concerned about the next search,” specifically regarding the quantity of candidates.

Henrickson didn't share Steelman's concern, saying there are many factors that could impact the search and the specific outcome of last semester's events is unknown.

“Whether it affects negatively or positively remains to be seen,” Henrickson said.

Phillips suggested expanding the search committee beyond the board to include around 13 to 15 total people. There would not be an advisory group, which had been a component of the hiring process for Wolfe. Student representative to the board Tracy Mulderig said it’s important that all four UM System campuses are represented. The board did not decide who should serve on the search committee.

Some board members expressed concern at having too large of a search committee, as it could increase the possibility for a leak of information.

Confidentiality of the candidates was a key factor for the board as they discussed different models for the search, including open, closed or hybrid.

Phillips said there was a consensus toward having a closed, or private, search, as it would allow them to reach out to candidates who were already employed.

However, according to a document detailing the different models, “adopting a completely closed search process is likely to generate considerable but understandable resistance by the communities.”

Mulderig argued in favor of a hybrid model, which would start off closed until the search committee settled on finalists. At that point, public forums would be held with the finalists.

The curators did not discuss using a completely open model, which would have kept committee conversations open to the public with regular updates provided to general population.

A major drawback of the open model would be that “stakeholder input will likely be loud and constant, and can affect the pool as the search progresses,” according to the document explaining the models. “This could lengthen the time to complete the search and creates a risk that the ‘loudest voices’ determine the outcome of the search.”

Phillips also presented a proposed timeline for the search, which he acknowledged was ambitious. The first step is to hire a search firm to identify candidates. The board will then put together the search committee. Similarly to the hiring process for Wolfe, the curators still plan on holding public forums to receive input on the qualifications the next president should have.

While nothing was decided, the curators did hint at what kind of candidate they are looking for. Phillips said the next president “ought to be fully qualified, experienced and successful in academia.”

Henrickson said they are keeping an open mind on the backgrounds of the candidates.

“Of course the chancellors at the four universities are the head academicians, and the president of the university is the president of the enterprise,” Hendrickson said. “There are people who have strong opinions that it should be a businessman and people have strong opinions that it should be an academic, and I think the board is open-minded and wants to choose the best candidate, and we don’t know who it will be at this point.”

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