Presidential search praised, criticized

Encouraged by what he called a good cross section of input, Board Of Trustees Chairman Art Collins insisted a new university president would be chosen before the end of the year.

Speaking Saturday before the dedication of the Jake Gaither statue, Collins said there is not a deadline for presidential applicants “per se,” but hastened to add that five finalists will be announced at the board’s December 6-7 meeting.

“In the month of December, we will invite the five candidates on campus for visits,” Collins said. “That will be the deadline.”

While a new president may be chosen before President Humphries’ departure, Collins acknowledged that there could be a need for an interim president during the early months of 2002.

“We will identify a president by the first of the year, but we understand that the person may not be seated before the first of January,” Collins said.

During Wednesday’s town hall meeting, Collins and other trustees sat with Heidrick and Struggles representatives, listening to concerns and comments from faculty, students and community members about the next president. While some praised the trustees for their work, a string of professors raised strong objections to the direction and pace of the search.

A major complaint from faculty members, most notably William Tucker, physics professor and faculty union leader, involved a lack of faculty representation in the presidential search process.

At a hastily called press conference before the first town hall session, Tucker said that the faculty was much more involved during the search process for President Humphries 17 years ago. He also criticized the quality of the current list of applicants.

“It scares me to death,” Tucker said. “If we start considering a dean who hired a convicted rapist, then we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

Trustee Randall Hanna said people often apply at the last minute for university president positions, and he expected more interested candidates to step forward in the coming weeks. Hanna added that Humphries’ departure is no secret nationally, and the board has advertised the opening in magazines such as the Chronicle of Higher Education

“The truth of the matter is that this vacancy has been known about since last February,” Hanna said.

Later in the evening, informed of Hanna’s comments, Tucker bristled, saying the selection process was “heading for a train wreck.”

“We’ll be lucky to get someone agreeable. It shouldn’t depend on luck,” Tucker said. “How can they scrutinize someone at the last minute?”

Other faculty members were uncertain if the Search Advisory Committee, composed of appointed faculty, student, alumni and community members, would be taken seriously by the board.

After delivering an impassioned speech at the meeting, questioning the control of one man, Gov. Bush, over the Board of Trustees, Clyde Ashley, a SBI associate professor and member of the advisory committee, reiterated his demand that faculty members be included in more than a cursory way in the selection process.

“I’m hoping that the 13 member Board of Trustees will make a decision to include a faculty member and a student member to the six member internal committee,’ Ashley said. “I believe by holding their feet to the fire, we will select a fine new president.”

Student attendance at the town hall meetings was sparse. One student at the evening session, Deneisha Bishop, 21, a business administration student from San Diego, said she had only heard about the meeting at 4:30 p.m. that afternoon in one of her classes.

“The only thing I got out of it is that they’re not really going to let us participate in the decision,’ Bishop said.

While acknowledging that the search advisory committee will play a key role, Collins stressed that the student body is the only constituency by law that may be directly involved in the board’s committee deliberations.

He added that, despite protests for faculty representation on the board’s search committee, he would not be adding any faculty to the committee and no faculty member would receive a vote.

“Essentially what I’m being asked to do is change the statutes,” Collins said.

The next presidential search meeting will be November 12 in the Grand Ballroom.