Shhhh…Presidential Search in Progress

Guest post by Dennis Barden

While it is still common for educational institutions in the final stages of a leadership search to bring candidates to campus for open visits—public institutions are often required by law to do so—some candidates are pushing back. The issue of transparent governance versus the candidate’s right to privacy is an old one but the current climate is shifting toward a more confidential process.

The reason for this is paralleled by a shift in the nature of the daily work of university presidents and chancellors.  With increasing responsibility for external relations—raising private funding, working with lawmakers on appropriations and earmarks, seeking alternative sources of support, creating partnerships and leverage—the value of academic leaders’ personal connections with key funders and other stakeholders has risen.

The candidate who fears being compromised at his or her current institution while considering another job opportunity may insist upon privacy until he or she is selected as “the” candidate. In cases where the recruiting institution cannot or will not accommodate a candidate’s desire for confidentiality, some superior candidates will opt to stay away.

Boards understand this and realize they are competing with a large number of institutions for a limited number of highly qualified candidates, including those candidates’ current employers.

There is no right or wrong answer to the question of an open interview protocol versus a confidential one. For some institutions, a state legislature may have preempted the choice. And even when confidentiality is an option, tradition often creates the expectation that faculty and students will be participants in the process—or at least fully informed of its progress.

Regardless of the approach the board chooses, it must discuss the issue of confidentiality at the outset of the search process. A quiet path to the highest-quality candidate pool could result in a noisy arrival for a new leader if the followers are not agreeable.

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