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MSU presidential search to be closed, more updates on process released

November 29, 2018
MSU Board of Trustees member Melanie Foster listens to community input about the MSU presidential search at the Kellogg Conference Center on Oct. 11, 2018.
MSU Board of Trustees member Melanie Foster listens to community input about the MSU presidential search at the Kellogg Conference Center on Oct. 11, 2018.

An official update on the search for MSU's next president was released to the university committee Wednesday.

The letter — signed by the co-chairs of the presidential search committee, Trustees Dianne Byrum and Melanie Foster — discussed the recent actions and decisions made by the committee and the progress of the presidential search process. 

The update also responded to some concerns of transparency expressed by the MSU community, and confirmed their decision to close the search to the public. 

Here are five takeaways from the update.

Moving on to the next step 

More than a month after the listening phase of the MSU presidential search process concluded — a process that consisted of input sessions held for members of the MSU community to make the search more transparent and inclusive — the presidential search committee is making progress toward choosing a permanent president. 

At the last MSU Faculty Senate meeting, members of the community discussed some of the steps the committee has taken so far and shared their thoughts and concerns

Since the 22 input sessions have concluded, notes from these sessions have been compiled and made available on the presidential search website. The opinions on what qualities the next president should have and what challenges MSU faces provided by students, faculty, staff and other members of the university community will "play a critical role in the search committee's deliberations," the letter said. 

The search committee has met several times, and Mary Finn, one of several faculty members on the 19-person committee, noted at the last Faculty Senate meeting that they've met with the search firm Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates multiple times as well.

Search to be closed to the public 

After "extensive discussions" by the presidential search committee about whether the search should be open or confidential, it was decided that the search will be closed to the public. This was in order to "draw the strongest pool of candidates," Byrum and Foster noted in the letter. 

This decision also came after the search firm and their consultant, Dr. Teresa Sullivan, advised that this is the standard. During the past three years, the majority of presidential searches at research-intensive universities have been confidential due to the fact that "most highly qualified candidates are not willing to be recruited for an open search," the update said. 

Some concerns have been raised by members of the MSU community about the transparency of the presidential search process. At the last Faculty Senate meeting, James Madison professor Andaluna Borcila pushed for an open search where candidates could meet and engage with the community through forums before the final board selection in June.   

"It's not a transparent process — we will have no input until they announce the person. We will not see any of the candidates. We have no way of judging them," Lisa Lapidus, professor in the College of Natural Science, said to a member of the search committee at the meeting. "At this point, we're blind."

At the last MSU University Council meeting, students and faculty on both sides of the issue discussed whether or not it's in the university's best interest to have an open or closed search. Now, the committee has come to its final decision to have it be confidential. 

Another reason for this decision was that many other universities around the nation are conducting searches — most of which are confidential, the letter noted — and MSU is competing for those "highly qualified presidential candidates at the same time" as those universities. 

Addressing concerns of transparency

In the update, Byrum and Foster wrote that they've listened to the MSU community and "understand and appreciate concerns raised about trust and transparency in the search process." 

In response to those concerns, the search committee will "expand its scope of activities." And, because the MSU Board of Trustees will ultimately decide who the permanent president of the university will be, they plan to work closely with the board until the trustees make their selection. 

In response to concerns with half of the Board of Trustees being on the presidential search committee, the Faculty Senate and the University Council passed a proposal to eliminate the "double voting" that goes against standard search committee practice.

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This would allow co-chairs Melanie Foster and Dianne Byrum, Trustee Dan Kelly and Trustee Joel Ferguson to have a say when the entire Board of Trustees chooses the new president, but not when forwarding candidates.

The proposal was sent to the Board of Trustees and the presidential search committee, but whether or not they will consider this was not explicitly addressed in the letter. 

But in the letter, Byrum and Foster wrote that MSU community members with diverse backgrounds and experiences make up the presidential search committee, and when it comes to working with the board, they will have access to all the candidate information. "Their opinions are valued and respected, and they will be important partners in the interviewing and vetting of candidates," the update said. 

Detailed position description highlighting community input is released 

Following the release of the position advertisement, a comprehensive 39-page document has been completed by the search committee and released for candidates to have access to. 

This presidential prospectus is intended "to introduce potential candidates to the Spartan community and to the strong foundation, rich history and considerable momentum on which MSU will build in the coming years."

The document includes information on university academic, athletic, research and diversity inclusion programs and opportunities. 

It also includes information that was gathered, analyzed and discussed by the search committee from the community input sessions. Specifically, there is a section that highlights the challenges facing the university, and a section highlighting the desired qualifications and personal characteristics of the future permanent president. 

Confidential nominations have begun to be accepted 

The search committee has begun accepting confidential nominations, which can be submitted to the search at MSUPresident@storbecksearch.com, the update said. 

Identifying candidates and initial interviews will begin now that the presidential prospectus was released, and final interviews with the Board of Trustees are set to occur between February and May.

The new president of MSU will be announced in June of 2019.

For more information, read the State News' in-depth look at the MSU presidential search process and the community's response.


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