The University of Akron may expand the committee to pick a new president, but could close off the process from public view.

Trustees are considering a proposal that would keep the names of finalists confidential.

The plan is to drop board policy that brings finalists to the campus to meet with various groups.

Critics have said taxpayer-supported universities should reveal names of finalists rather than keeping the public in the dark.

Kent State University’s last two searches for a president were closed, leading to criticism from public records advocates, as well as some faculty members and students and others.

UA’s search will be its third hunt for a new leader since 2014. It comes amid enrollment declines and budget gaps.

Current UA board policy calls for the presidential search committee to be made up of trustees.

The proposal under consideration calls for this committee to add the elected leaders of the Faculty Senate, the faculty union and the Undergraduate Student Government, among others.

Members of the committee who are not trustees would have to “sign pledges of confidentiality,” according to a prepared statement released Wednesday by the board or trustees.

The search committee would make a “consensus recommendation to the board, which would retain final decision-making authority to select the next president,” the statement said.

“We believe having more members of the University community participate… throughout the entire search process, rather than just making observations about finalist candidates at the end, strengthens shared governance and will yield a better decision by the board,” Board President Joseph M. Gingo said in the statement.

Referring to candidates' names not being disclosed, Gingo said in the statement, “we understand concerns that some may have about this approach.”

Gingo said, “The reality of searches at this level is that top candidates will be extremely unlikely to have their names circulated publicly.”

Seeking transparency

Dennis Hetzel, the executive director of the Ohio News Media Association and a public records advocate, disagrees with such thinking.

“A public university of all places has a special responsibility to conduct these searches in as open and transparent a manner as possible,” he said after learning of UA's proposal.

“If anything,” public schools should  “go beyond the requirements of the law” in Ohio governing public records, said Hetzel, who has criticized closed searches at other universities.

Bruce Winges, Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com editor, said, “We are disappointed to learn that members of the public may be ... kept in the dark as UA searches for a new president.”

He said, “We will do all we can to bring transparency to the process for our public university.”

Winges added, "It is unfortunate that UA apparently is following Kent State’s practice of keeping the presidential search secret.

“We fought Kent State for public records in years past and we will continue that effort with UA and other public institutions today.”

The executive committee of the faculty union — Akron AAUP (American Association of University Professors) — said in UA’s statement that it supports the proposed changes, noting “they represent a better reflection of shared governance.”

Faculty hopeful

Union President Julie Cajigas said in an interview that the change allows the union to participate in the whole search process.

“We’re hopeful about having different voices, and diverse voices from all the campus constituencies” serving on the committee “early on in the process,” she said.

Such inclusion, she said, “is what we’ve been asking for and hoping for.” She hopes it leads to more interaction between faculty members and the board.

“Obviously, there’s concern,” she said, about a closed process as faculty members who are not on the search committee won’t be able to meet candidates and give opinions.

Because the current presidential search process is part of the union’s bargaining agreement, union members will vote on the proposal — endorsed by the executive committee — next week.

The UA board’s rules committee will consider the proposal at 7 a.m. Thursdayand the full board is scheduled to vote at its Dec. 5 meeting.

University spokesman Wayne Hill said officials would soon choose a search firm to help find candidates. 

UA is now being led by Interim President John Green, who was appointed in May after Matthew Wilson, who had replaced Scott Scarborough, stepped down and returned to the UA law school faculty.

Wilson advanced from interim president to president without UA conducting a national search.

 

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.