The University of Louisville’s Grawemeyer Hall

The University of Louisville board of trustees formally started its search for a permanent president during a meeting on Friday, receiving a briefing from its contracted search firm and forming two subcommittees to conduct a “leadership statement” on what qualities the school wants in a new president and a “listening tour” to receive feedback on campus from students, faculty and staff.

However, according the chairman of the trustees and a letter to the campus community approved by the board, the 13 trustees are the only ones who will get to meet and speak with any of the candidates — or even know the names of finalists — until the new president is hired.

While board chair J. David Grissom notes that faculty, students and staff each had a representative on the board and that the best presidential candidates would be dissuaded from applying if their names went public, the president of UofL’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) called this closed search process “very troubling” due to its lack of transparency and feedback from the UofL’s campus community.

The search firm winning the $170,000 contract with UofL is owned by William Funk, one of the country’s most notable university presidential headhunters, who briefed the board on Friday about the search process. Funk said that he expected to bring in candidates to be interviewed by the beginning of next year, and that a new president could be hired by the trustees as early as next spring.

After assigning trustees to two subcommittees tasked with drafting a leadership statement and conducting a campus listening tour related to the search, Grissom passed out a draft of a letter he signed to send out to the entire campus detailing how the presidential search would work, which was approved without any dissent. The letter stated that the board “feels it is imperative to conduct a true national search” for a new president, seeking a candidate “with strong academic experience who can inspire the campus community and help us attain even higher levels of academic excellence.”

UofL Board of Trustees chair J. David Grissom and interim UofL president Greg Postel | Photo by Joe Sonka

While stating that the board is committed to understanding the perspectives of important constituencies as the listening tour subcommittee is conducted and they develop the formal qualifications and experiences sought in a new president, Grissom stated in the letter that the identities of such candidates would remain confidential from those outside the board of trustees.

“After careful consideration, and with the input of national experts in higher education, the Board has decided to conduct the search in such a way as to protect the confidentiality of all candidates,” wrote Grissom. “This will enable us to develop the strongest possible pool from which to find our next leader.”

Asked about the closed nature of the search process by reporters after the meeting, Grissom said that this was a best practice among universities when hiring a new president.

“The kind of person we are trying to attract to this position already has a really important job, and it will be our job to recruit that person away from wherever he or she is currently,” said Grissom. “And that kind of person is not going to risk their career by becoming a public figure during an interviewing process.”

Grissom also described the search process as “all inclusive,” as the faculty, students and staff each have one representative on the board of trustees and the two subcommittees formed today — though, these are the only ones among those constituencies who will know the identify of or be able to speak with any of the candidates before one is hired next year.

Susan Jarosi, a professor of arts history and the president of the UofL chapter of the AAUP, told reporters that she found this closed process “very troubling,” stating that her organization believed best practices actual called for an open process in which finalists could interact with students and faculty before a president was hired. She also wondered if Enid Trucios-Haynes, the faculty representative on the board, had time to fully read the letter in the meeting before it was approved, saying the two “had talked about the search being closed as our biggest worry.”

Trucios-Haynes did not reply to an email from IL, and Vishnu Tirumal, the student representative on the board of trustees, declined further comment.

Postel interested in position as permanent UofL president

Asked if he is interested in the permanent position, interim UofL President Greg Postel said that he is.

“I am (interested), very much,” said Postel. “I enjoy the job very much, and I think we’re making a lot of progress. But I respect the search process, that’s how universities work.”

Postel was already serving as the interim executive vice president for Health Affairs at UofL in January when he also took over as interim president, after then-interim President Neville Pinto left the school to become the president of the University of Cincinnati. UofL has not had a permanent president since James Ramsey was forced into resigning last summer.

Uncertainty remains on whether UofL will file lawsuit stemming from UofL Foundation audit

The full UofL board of trustees, as well as its special litigation committee tasked with deciding whether to file a lawsuit in response to scathing forensic investigation of the UofL Foundation, both passed vaguely worded resolutions on Friday that did not add any clarity on what actions the university might take.

Despite Grissom saying on Aug. 10 that the litigation committee would come to a final decision within the next month, the resolution only stated that it “allows and directs Counsel to initiate discussions with the University of Louisville Foundation with an eye toward resolution.”

Grissom was asked repeatedly by reporters what this resolution meant and if a decision had been made on whether a lawsuit would be filed, but he declined to comment each time. Asked if he had a new timeline on when they would make a decision on litigation, he said, “I think that we could see some considerable progress on this in the next 30 days.”

Accrediting agency SACS visiting UofL next week

Accrediting agency SACS is sending a six-member team led by the president of the University of Virginia to UofL’s campus from Tuesday to Thursday next week, as part of its process of investigating nine possible violations of the agency’s standards and principles. Last December, SACS placed UofL on probation, citing the actions of Gov. Matt Bevin in attempting to abolish its board of trustees and create a new one with his own appointees, which SACS viewed as undue political influence.

But according to Postel, UofL is now fully in compliance and he expects SACS to come to that conclusion as well.

“We’re clean on all nine,” said Postel. “We don’t have anything to explain. We can clearly show that we have met every requirement that they have asked about.”

Postel added that SACS has asked to meet with Gov. Bevin when representatives visit next week. Bevin has been critical of SACS in the past and said in January that he and the state legislature “don’t answer to accrediting agencies.”

Grissom won’t touch Bevin’s comments on cutting university programs

Asked about Gov. Bevin’s comments this week advocating that university presidents and governing boards consider cutting programs and degrees that don’t lead to high-paying jobs, Grissom decided to take a pass.

“No… I’m not going to weigh in on a comment made by the governor,” said Grissom. “I’m not going to be drawn into that. I wasn’t present when he made these statements, or allegedly made these statements. And I’m not going to comment on that.”

Asked if he would feel more comfortable commenting on this matter after SACS was done with their visit next week, Grissom said, “It would be presumptuous for me to comment on something that the governor said that he has strong feelings about.”

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]