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Ohio AAUP Chapters Contend with Secretive Searches

By John T. McNay

This article appears as a sidebar to Frank D. LoMonte's article "The Costs of Closed Searches" in the print edition and PDF version of the spring 2019 Academe.

Both Kent State University and the University of Akron are currently engaged in presidential searches that are more secretive than faculty members at those institutions would like. In fact, the searches are more secretive than Ohio law permits, as the Akron Beacon-Journal pointed out in a November 2018 editorial about the then-upcoming Kent State search: “One thing the trustees have an obligation to add in this process is transparency, or a commitment to comply with the letter and spirit of the Ohio Public Records Act.” Such transparency was missing from the university’s last presidential search, the Beacon-Journal noted.

Yet, in the first week of December, the boards of trustees of both universities announced almost in lockstep that they would be conducting closed searches.

The situation at Akron was complicated, because the Akron AAUP chapter’s collective bargaining contract required that presidential search finalists come to campus to meet with the faculty. Instead of following this process, the trustees offered the union representation on the search committee. The union faced a difficult decision. It had been pushing the trustees to include more faculty members on relevant board committees, and in this case they were offering to do that. Union leaders also believed that it would be hard to rally public opposition to a closed search when the faculty had been offered representation on the search committee. And, of course, if the union refused to participate, the search would likely go forward without any faculty representation on the search committee.

After much deliberation, Akron AAUP members voted to amend their contract and participate in the search. John Zipp, past president of the Akron chapter, noted that “the best situation would have been both to have representation on the committee and to have the finalists come to campus and meet the faculty.” However, he expressed hope that the inclusion of chapter president Pam Schulze and other faculty members on the search committee would demonstrate “the importance of including faculty on other board committees.”

For Akron, the current process is a break from past practice. Before the board appointed Scott Scarborough in 2014, three finalists, including Scarborough, came to campus to meet the university community. Scarborough, however, lasted only two years and resigned in 2016 amid a storm of controversy brought on by a series of bad decisions.

At Kent State, the secretive search is following a pattern similar to the last one, which garnered wide criticism from the faculty as well as the press. The Kent State University AAUP chapter issued a statement in December calling on the board to follow the policy used in searches for other top administrative positions. That policy, which is contained in the faculty senate bylaws and is incorporated into the collective bargaining agreement by reference, explicitly mentions presidential searches. One section of the policy states that in all searches a slate of three to five acceptable candidates will be produced at the end of the search committee’s deliberations and will then be interviewed by a faculty senate committee. Further, the policy states that the search committee for a presidential position will include four faculty members: the faculty senate chair, two faculty members chosen by the Committee on Administrative Officers (a senate committee), and a regional campus faculty member selected by the regional campus faculty advisory council. 

Both the AAUP chapter and the faculty senate have strongly urged Kent State to follow these existing policies. So far, the university has done so regarding faculty representation on the search committee. It remains to be seen whether the governing board will present finalists to be interviewed by the senate committee.

Other universities in Ohio have faced similarly secretive searches in recent years.

Closed searches have been a regular problem at the University of Cincinnati. In 2009, UC’s board of trustees appointed Greg Williams to the presidency quickly and with virtually no input from anyone outside the board, despite loud claims to the contrary. Williams left the university just three years later with a $1.5 million golden parachute. The secretive appointment of Santa Ono in 2012 was less controversial because Ono was already serving as provost, but he, too, left within a few years. UC faculty members elected by the faculty senate were on the search committee for his successor, but they were sworn to secrecy. There was great concern about the search because of rumors that the board wanted to hire a former Proctor and Gamble executive, so the faculty was relieved when Neville Pinto, a former engineering professor who had served as dean of UC’s graduate school, was appointed.

At Bowling Green State University no search occurred at all after Mary Ellen Mazey stepped down in December 2017 following seven years as president. The board of trustees named Rodney Rogers, then the provost, as interim president. Two months later, without ever having initiated a search, the BGSU board of trustees named Rogers president. The AAUP chapter was surprised that no search had been conducted but pleased, given the circumstances, that the board appointed Rogers, who they believe was a good choice.

At Wright State University, which is now recovering from one of the longest academic strikes in American history, current president Cheryl Schrader was appointed in July 2017 in a relatively open search with finalists brought to campus. Chapter president Marty Kich said, however, that the faculty voice was diminished in the process, because only four faculty members were included on a search committee of twenty-six.

Kich summed up the situation as follows: “The secrecy surrounding searches seems a result of administrators becoming a very itinerant class. When they are on the market seeking a new position, they do not want it known that they have not been selected. . . . But, given how critical the position is at almost every institution, one would think that our universities would benefit significantly from having even more transparency and from soliciting even more meaningful input in these searches than there typically is in all faculty searches.”

John T. McNay, a professor of history at the University of Cincinnati at Blue Ash, is past president of the UC AAUP chapter and current president of the Ohio AAUP conference.

 

 

Comments

You neglected to mention that the search for Wright State's previous president, David Hopkins, involved no faculty input whatsoever.

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