Monday, October 31, 2016

Chancellor Search: Public or Private?

Being a member of the Search Committee for the new Chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, I have been interviewing candidates over the past month or so, and am sworn to secrecy as to their identity.

Why is this? For a public institution, such as UTK, shouldn't the whole community know who the candidates are,  be able to talk to them, and have a say in who is eventually picked? After all, the Chancellor's position is incredibly important, with pivotal roles in academics, athletics, research, governmental relations, student relations and much more. Many communities are impacted.

This secrecy is now leading to arguments.  The Tennessee 'Sunshine Laws',  require transparency from UTK on the announcement of the finalists who are then subjected to public scrutiny, but the university is holding back until the very last day before the candidates arrive.

For me, the university is absolutely right to do so. The fact is that maybe three candidates are coming, two of whom at least will not get the job. For these, the fact that they were candidates in the first place will become public knowledge. This can be  harmful for their positions in their current institutions, to the point, in fact, where they might still refuse to come at all. What can happen, in fact, is that the the very best candidates often withdraw before the public phase, or may refuse to even be candidates in the first place. I am not saying that this has happened in the UTK case, and I would not be allowed to say so either way.  Just that it is often the case.

My suggestion for the future would be to have campus participation in the vetting and selection of the Search Committee,  and then let the Committee, the President and the Board of Trustees do their job.
At any rate I can say that the candidates who will come to UTK over the next couple of weeks are fantastic people, extremely well qualified, and it would be a privilege for us to have any of them to lead the campus.