Kent State University journalism and mass communication professors are urging the board of trustees, as well as the search committee tasked with finding a new president, to commit to an open search.

Additionally, the faculty members want the committee and board of trustees to commit to “meeting their obligations under the Ohio Public Records Act.”

Fourteen current and retired faculty members issued a statement Monday asking the two groups to “make and publicly state these commitments immediately before the search process progresses.”

The statement is the latest public admonition concerning the hunt to replace Beverly Warren, who will retire July 1.

The statement echoes earlier criticism of the last search, saying it was conducted “almost entirely in secret.”

No candidate names were revealed before a hiring decision was made, the statement notes.

“Despite spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on the search, “the first the university community learned of any candidate for the job was when the board of trustees announced President Beverly Warren had been hired.”

Warren, through no fault of her own, the statement says, started as president “under a cloud of suspicion” linked to the secrecy of the 2013 search.

On Monday, Kent State spokesman Eric Mansfield reiterated earlier statements, saying, "The Board of Trustees and Kent State University will adhere to all applicable laws and policies related to the presidential search, and will conduct the search with the goal of identifying the most highly qualified candidate as Kent State’s next president."

The KSU School of Journalism and Mass Communication “is committed to instilling in our students a strong appreciation for open government and the right of the press and the public to engage in effective oversight of government agencies,” the statement says.

Specifically, the current and retired faculty members of the school want a commitment to a “transparent search process” that allows for a “public assessment” of finalists.

The faculty members also want trustees and search committee members to commit to retaining records of the search, whether held by KSU, the search committee or the search firm hired to help in the hunt.

In 2014, the Beacon Journal made repeated requests for an accounting of Kent State's last search for a new president. However, the university gave the search firm (Storbeck/ Pimental and Associates of Media, Pa.) control over all records — including those that the newspaper argued should be public, such as travel receipts.

In the 2018 Ohio Sunshine Law manual, the state attorney general advises that documents held by a search firm during the process are public. However, Kent, and other schools in Ohio, have not revealed such information, refusing to publicly name finalists and announcing the successful candidate as a done deal.

The KSU professors say that if there is a disagreement about what Ohio public records law require, “we ask the university to request an official opinion from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.”

The search committee has not publicly outlined how the search will be conducted. Earlier this month, KSU hired a search firm, Russell Reynolds Associates of New York, to assist in the process. The company's proposal recommends a closed search.

The proposal says, "Based on our vast experience, we have learned that many excellent candidates will refuse to be considered unless their confidentiality is guaranteed throughout the search."

The university will pay Russell Reynolds Associates at least least $179,000. 

The Akron Beacon Journal and Record-Courier have published editorials calling for an open search. Additionally, Frank LoMonte of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida, has argued for an open search in a commentary on the newspaper’s editorial page.

Dennis Hetzel, outgoing executive director of the Ohio News Media Association, also has called for an open process.

 

Katie Byard can be reached at kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3781. You can follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or Facebook.