EMU in the CHE for all the wrong reasons, again: More secret presidential search follies

The latest news in the EMU presidential search process is it was one of the topics in this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, “In Search for College Chiefs, Faculty Input Can Feel Like a Mere Formality.” It’s behind the paywall, but let’s just say I “have my ways” and I did read it.

First off, the best observation in this CHE piece is not in the article itself but in the first comment I read, one signed by James H. Finkelstein. To paraphrase: the problem with what the EMU Board of Regents is doing (along with a lot of other boards since this article is about this trend at lots of other schools) isn’t that it’s a confidential search; it’s a secret search. A confidential search would be one where there’s no public information about the search leading up to the finalists, but once everyone knows who the top three or four candidates are, there is some kind of public “presentation” of these finalists to the university community. A secret search is one where there’s no public information at all, not about candidates who applied, about finalists, ad nothing about the final interview process. Someone just opens a door one day, introduces the new president, and that’s that.

Now, I don’t think anyone has a problem with a confidential search. If you are a mucky-muck provost or president or dean or whatever and you are looking to make the jump to president at a place like EMU, you don’t to give your current employer the impression that you’re on the job market. Everyone knows that; heck, it’s the same thing for most faculty looking to move from one job to another. But by the time the search is down to finalists, I think it’s fair to say there isn’t much need for confidentiality.

Look, we’re not picking a pope; we’re trying to hire the president of a public institution that involves tens of thousands of alumni, students, staff, faculty, and administrators who all deserve to have at least some role in the process. And frankly, I’m suspicious of a finalist who doesn’t want contact with people at the university and beyond the hiring committee before taking the job.

Second, I think this article does a pretty shitty job characterizing Martin’s presidency and departure. A quote:

The search at Eastern Michigan comes on the heels of two presidencies that ended in controversy. Susan W. Martin, who resigned in July, had been reprimanded by the board for having an “inappropriate” alcohol-fueled exchange at a public event. Her predecessor, John A. Fallon III, was fired, in 2007, amid outcry over the university’s bungled response to a student murder.

There is a lot of pressure to get this one right, and regents say a closed search provides the best chance of that.

This is a classic example of a journalist bending reality to fit the argument they want to make: that is, the last two presidents were so controversial that now the board has to do a secret search to “get this one right.” So much for the objectivity of journalism, right?

Say what you will about Martin’s presidency (I thought she was pretty good, certainly the best president I’ve dealt with at EMU) and you can even say what you want about the board reprimand over some kind of drunken argument (though I think that was mostly a bogus hack job promoted by some former board members who wanted her out). But there was zero connection between Martin stepping down as president and this reprimand, none, and to suggest that there was a connection– that is, that this reprimand is what lead to Martin resigning in disgrace– is slimy.

They get Fallon about right though.

Third, I hope that the Faculty Senate does take search chair/BoR member Michelle Crumm up on her offer to add faculty to the committee. As I wrote about before, I think simply walking away from the search entirely is a dumb and pointless protest. In my view, faculty could make a lot more difference by participating in the search committee and, simultaneously, advocating for at least some openness in the process.  And as Crumm points out, two more faculty on the committee would mean three out of the twelve members of the committee would be faculty. That’s a hell of a lot better than none, even if the search remains secret.


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