Dissatisfaction with the University of Louisville’s confidential presidential search dominated the debate at the board of trustees meeting on Monday. Even so, the board chairman J. David Grissom said he remained committed to the process.
Several faculty members held up protest signs calling for an open search and members of the Presidential Search Faculty Consultation Committee (PSFCC) presented 18 letters from school-related organizations asking the board to require finalists to at least visit campus.
PSFCC co-chairs Susan Jarosi and Robert Keynton tried unsuccessfully to get the board of trustees to clarify their organization’s role in the selection process. UofL guidelines dictate that PSFCC be consulted by the board, but Jarosi said it is impossible for the faculty group to perform its duty without basic information.
“We have no way of knowing what the candidate pool really looks like or what kind of candidates the board is interested in if everything is done in complete confidence,” she said.
Last week, a series of public meetings was announced to give community groups an opportunity to participate in the search to replace James Ramsey, who resigned in July 2016 amid a myriad of scandals. Bonita Black, chair of the Listening Tour Subcommittee, said the sessions should start in January. Faculty members and community leaders can make nominations and give their opinions on what qualities the new president should possess.
However, Jarosi says she is suspicious of how serious the board is about weighing information from the listening sessions because its professional search firm, R. William Funk & Associates of Dallas, has already placed advertisements in several higher education publications naming Dec. 1 as the deadline to apply for the UofL president’s job.
Black said those ads will be republished in each of the journals with later deadlines for applications. She also promised to work with Funk & Associates to find a balance between the secrecy that high-profile candidates need and the faculty’s call for transparency.
“I just want to make sure everyone understands that this board wants input from every constituency. We have to figure out how we do that and get the best candidates,” Black explained.
Pan-African Studies Chair Ricky L. Jones is a longtime critic of the closed search which he has called “undemocratic and unhealthy for the school.” Jones submitted his name as a candidate for the president position via Twitter on Monday. He tweeted: “I don’t know how to do it formally because the process is a secret. My team and I will bring truth, transparency, and make U of L great again.”
Trustee Raymond Burse, a former president of Kentucky State University, said he knows people who have lost jobs because their schools found out they were talking to another institution. Burse was offended by the protesters at Monday’s meeting and he dislikes the general lack of trust in the board.
“It seems to be insinuated in some way Raymond Burse and maybe the other members of this board do not want to find the individual who is the very best president of the University of Louisville,” he said. “I have that commitment. I think all of my colleagues have that commitment. I’ve never heard anyone express a desire other than finding the very best person for the job.”
Two members of the board of trustees also shared their own concern with the closed search process. Trustee Ronald L. Wright admitted that he thought the decision to keep the candidates confidential was regrettable. Professor Enid Trucios-Haynes, another member of the board, understands how the secrecy could be cast in a negative light by some people following the questionable behavior that exemplified the Ramsey administration.
“I think it’s incumbent on us as a board to address this in terms of trust and transparency. I understand that there has been an abuse of discretion in the past and that violated trust and resulted in a lack of transparency,” Trucios-Haynes added.
After a long meeting with one closed executive session, Grissom said in a statement: “While we have received substantial communications from the faculty in opposition to this process, we continue to believe this process will produce the best possible candidates.”
Communications Professor Michael Cunningham believes the board is ignoring the principal of “shared governance” with the faculty and the community. Cunningham, secretary-treasurer of the American Association of University Professors (AUPP), was among the faculty protesters, but he has no problem with the board keeping the candidates confidential up to a point.
“Many institutions usually keep the names confidential until the final three are selected. Then the final three have to come out and take the risk of losing their position. That is not always a substantial risk. Many candidates gain higher salaries by demonstrating other institutions are interested in them. In fact, our own James Ramsey played that game on a number of occasions,” he said.
PSFCC’s Keynton wants a clear process for the presidential search that includes all the stakeholders. He said, “We always viewed it as a partnership and that’s what we want to do, be truly engaged with one another.”