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St. Thomas community deserves to be informed about presidential search

By ,  |  Wednesday, November 21, 2012 11:04 PM

As the selection of a new president nears, the St. Thomas community deserves to be informed about the range of people being considered to potentially take the helm in June.

Since the firm Witt/Kieffer released its leadership profile for the Rev. Dennis Dease’s replacement, only two official statements have been issued by the presidential search committee. Neither offered much in the way of specifics.

TommieMedia reported that the committee narrowed the field of candidates to eight and is conducting interviews. It has not been decided whether or not those candidates’ names will be made public.  opinion

So far, the university and the search committee have kept quiet. As the new president’s selection gets closer and closer, it’s time for the search committee to start talking to students and the St. Thomas community about who will be the university’s next president.

The Rev. John Malone said in an Undergraduate Student Government-sponsored public forum with students and university administrators that confidentiality throughout the search process was essential to ensure the highest quality candidates.

“You guarantee a much deeper pool when you have high confidentiality so that the people who are in good positions, although they would like to go to something different, don’t have to expose themselves because only one person is going to get the job,” Malone said.

However, the university does not have a legal obligation to keep the candidates confidential. Neither Witt/Kieffer’s leadership profile nor the presidential search website offers potential candidates a promise of confidentiality. The candidates have entered into the process with no promise of secrecy.

In fact, not long after former St. Thomas School of Law Dean Thomas Mengler stepped down, the Dean’s Search Committee announced a list of candidates to the university community. Arguably, that job is one of the five most powerful positions at St. Thomas. If dean finalists are known, shouldn’t presidential finalists?

When considering whether or not the presidential search committee should release the names of the eight finalists, it is important to acknowledge that people would be able to identify the seven finalists who are not selected. The search committee stresses that those candidates would be subject to dealing with possible repercussions of interviewing for a different job.

The actual repercussions of being a candidate for presidency at St. Thomas aren’t as negative as they might seem. The presidential search website said candidates may not even be applicants, in fact they could be highly sought-after individuals who were recruited by trained professionals.

“The search consultants will review and follow up on all nominations and applications and will actively identify and recruit potential candidates. Recruitment will continue until the position is filled,” the presidential search website said.

If a candidate was not recruited and simply applied for the position, what’s really at stake?

Being a finalist in a nationwide search for president at one of the largest, private, higher educational institutions in the Midwest that is also a highly regarded university is something to boast about. Clearly, a finalist is coveted and an asset in his/her current position, no matter what his or her future career goals are.

When the the university conducted its last presidential search, two students were included in the committee. This effectively granted the student body a voice in determining who would be chosen as the next president.

This time, no students sit on the 13-member committee. Although three faculty members and the dean of students serve as representation, it isn’t really feasible that those four can truly speak from a student perspective. Aside from open forums used to design the leadership profile for the president’s position prior to the search, students haven’t had any opportunity to voice an opinion on the person who may serve them for the next 20 years.

The leadership profile said the next president of the university will conduct strategic planning and “play a seminal role in determining how St. Thomas will move forward.”

How the university should move forward is up for interpretation. However, it is important that St. Thomas students also have a say in how the university will move.

The university conducted a successful search in 1991 all while disclosing information to the St. Thomas community through regular media channels.

The last search’s provost, Charles Keffer, reported on specifics from the search committee meetings including numbers of candidates and nominees, strategies for recruitment and plans for on-campus interviews.

In the Feb. 15, 1991 edition of the Aquin, names and information about the five finalists were published along with information about the interactions the men would have with the St. Thomas community.

Students and faculty alike got to know the candidates when they participated in open forums and were able to ask the questions unique to student perspectives and understanding. These questions are important to ask and are essential to helping members of the search committee gather all of the information about the candidate whom they will recommend to the board of trustees.

A little more transparency would go a long way in helping to ensure that the committee recommends the best possible candidate for this monumental change in our university’s history.

This item was posted in Opinions and has 2 comments so far.

2 Comments

  1. Dick Houck, ’51
    Nov. 22, 2012 10:33 AM

    It is interesting that in neither article in today’s Tommy Media regarding the issue of choosing a new president for UST, is there any mention of the interest and concern that both the parents and all the members of this diocese have in this regard. The members of this diocese have a legitimate concern because, they are the ones who have contributed so much to build and maintain this school as a Catholic school of this diocese. And parents also have a high degree of interest as well, for it is their children whose Faith is at stake when they attend this Catholic school. And yet there is no mention of these two most important groups who have the most at stake in the school. The faculty and staff work for the parents who send their students there to receive their Catholic education, and that fact should be recognized in the selection of the best Catholic person to fill the president’s post and lead the school to its Catholic destination. Without the recognition of this concern, how can anyone be assured that the right person will be chosen for the right reasons.

  2. Bob Petersen
    Nov. 22, 2012 10:40 AM

    The search committee will undoubtably keep all of St. Thomas’ best interests in mind while conducting their candidate interview process. Although being announced as a candidate for such a position for a great university would seem very positive as this piece points out, it fails take into consideration is that times have changed. Many organizations that hire are much more cognizant and respectful of candidates’ desire for confidentiality. More candidates would make themselves available. More and more people looking for other career opportunities are concerned of the appearance that they are not interested in the long-term interests of their current employers. Current employers are not happy to learn if any of their employees are looking elsewhere, no matter how prestigious the position and especially if they are employees in key positions. Being that St. Thomas has such a strong reputation of respect and holding high ethical standards, that respect for confidentiality during this process is much greater than than some people’s desire for candidates to be announced. In the end, the candidate field will be much more broad and encompassing and the committee will have a much easier time making the right choice.

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