UK committee votes for secrecy in presidential search

process would yield 'preferred candidate' chosen by board

lblackford@herald-leader.comJanuary 29, 2011 

The committee to select the next University of Kentucky president voted Friday to keep all the candidates' names confidential throughout the interview process.

Once the list is honed to three to five finalists, the names of candidates to replace UK President Lee T. Todd Jr., who will retire in June, would be released only if all the finalists agreed to it.

The selection committee recommended that the Board of Trustees introduce a preferred candidate to faculty, staff and students before making the final hiring vote, rather than hiring someone, then presenting him or her to the university community.

In other words, the selection committee could recommend three to five candidates to the Board of Trustees. The trustees could then choose a preferred candidate to visit campus, before they vote to hire the person.

Both of the search committee's recommendations will have to be accepted by the full Board of Trustees at its Feb. 22 meeting. But board Chairman Britt Brockman said he didn't foresee a problem.

"After this much deliberation, the board will follow the recommendations," Brockman said. "This was a healthy deliberation. ... It's a nice compromise."

The four faculty members on the selection committee agreed to the confidentiality of the candidates, but they argued against having the trustees actually hire a candidate and then introduce him or her as a done deal.

"If we have a person who doesn't want to talk to the faculty, I think that's a problem," said Sheldon Steiner, a faculty member on the search committee.

Earlier in the day, at an on-campus forum, two faculty members complained about keeping candidates' names secret.

Ernie Yanarella, a political science professor and former faculty trustee, said he found it "disheartening there has been such a heavy push to close ranks and turn this into a confidential process." He called it a matter of trust between the new president and the university community.

"A university is not a corporation," Yanarella said. "We have to be very much aware of the difference between the two."

The American Association of University Professors is opposed to the confidentiality of presidential search processes, but most search firms recommend secrecy to get the best candidates.

University Senate President Hollie Swanson, who is also on the search committee, said that faculty members understood that confidentiality would allow them to get better candidates.

Selection committee chairman Jim Stuckert called the process of bringing in a preferred candidate a "courtesy" to the university community.

Jan Greenwood, the search consultant, said there was an element of risk, as some would become candidates only if they were assured their names would remain private until they had been hired.

But faculty members said there was very little chance a preferred candidate would do something during an introduction that would immediately turn the campus community against him or her.

In other business, Greenwood said that other states' economic woes made UK a more inviting prospect to attractive candidates.

"It isn't as bleak, relatively speaking, for us as it is for a lot of other places," Stuckert noted.

That will allow the search firm to look for candidates within top 20 research universities and elsewhere. The firm is also putting out advertisements and taking nominations. The candidates' names and résumés are being put on a secure Web site for the committee members to peruse.

The search committee could start interviews as soon as its next meeting on Feb. 23.

Reach Linda Blackford at (859) 231-1359.

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