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Vetting process for new UO leader raises concerns.

Byline: Greg Bolt The Register-Guard

The committee charged with finding a recommended replacement for University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer is only about halfway through the process but already faces a possible conflict over the finalists.

Some members of the search committee, particularly faculty members, are upset over the possibility that state officials would name only a single finalist who would take part in public interviews and events. They want a short list of finalists - three is a number often suggested - to be announced and to make campus visits before the state picks a finalist.

The issue pits the interest in an open process that involves the entire university community against the desire for confidentiality increasingly sought by top candidates. Many top executives fear that their current jobs could be put in jeopardy if it becomes known that they are seeking a post elsewhere and then ultimately aren't chosen for the job.

The committee's task is to recommend one or more preferred candidates to the state Board of Higher Education, which oversees the Oregon University System and has hiring authority for university presidents.

George Pernsteiner, chancellor of the OUS, said no decision has been made on how many candidates the state will announce before the board makes a final choice. He said it will depend on the wishes of the candidates on the short list of finalists recommended by the 25-member search committee.

"What we've said is if the final candidates, however many they may be, if they are all willing to go public, we will," Pernsteiner said. "But if even one of them wishes to maintain confidentiality, then we will continue the process on a confidential basis until we're to the point where we have one candidate that the board is considering."

The committee hopes to complete the process and make its recommendation in time for the board to name its choice at the April 3 board meeting. Committee members agreed not to reveal details of the search, including the number of applicants or any specifics about them.

But UO professor Paul van Donkelaar, president of the University Senate and a member of the search committee, said there's a strong desire on campus to have several finalists named so the broader community can take part in interviews and offer opinions to the board before it chooses a successor.

"The UO community members - the faculty and staff and students - would really, really, really like it if the chancellor was able to convince a number of the finalists to be willing to reveal their names," he said. "Then the end of the process would be normal campus visits where everyone has a chance to see the top three finalists and have their input on which out of those three they would choose."

The possibility that the committee would name only one candidate has raised considerable concern, van Donkelaar said. Faculty have let Pernsteiner know that they strongly encourage public naming of a final group of candidates.

The level of concern on the committee varies, though. Sam Dotters-Katz, the UO student body president and another committee member, said students will support whatever process ensures that the university gets the best possible candidate.

"I can definitely say from the student perspective that the most important facet of this entire search is that the end goal is to find the best possible successor to President Frohnmayer that we can find," he said. "And if that means keeping it closed to the point of only having one candidate, then not only do I think - but the student opinion is - that whatever must be done to find the best candidate should be done."

The committee includes six faculty members, four UO staff members and two students. Others include members of the state board, Oregon higher education officials, alumni and business people.

Naming multiple finalists is often called an open selection process, and naming only a single finalist is known as a closed process. Pernsteiner said that while an open process is common, it's not universal and that an increasing number of universities are using a closed process to ensure they get the best candidates.

"You want to have the best candidate you can find, and you want that candidate to stay in the pool and you want to make it possible for the candidate to do so without jeopardizing her or his career," he said.

Peter Eckel, programs director for the Center for Effective Leaders at the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., said he doesn't see closed searches as a trend so much as a different approach to hiring. He said there are good and bad points to both types of searches and that both have produced successes and failures.

"Often a person puts his ability or her ability to lead at some risk if they are known to be a candidate for another position," he said.

But, he added, "there are searches that are done in the open and done very well and have a very deep and highly qualified pool."

Eckel said ACE has been collecting data on university leadership for 20 years, but he doesn't know of any studies that have looked at whether the type of search affects the pool of candidates who apply.

Regardless of the process, van Donkelaar said the caliber of the people who have applied is very high.

"I have absolutely no worries about getting a very good replacement for Dave Frohnmayer," he said.

"The quality of the applicants is outstanding. It's going to be a hard decision to narrow it down."

The committee expects to begin face-to-face interviews later this month, meeting with candidates at airport-area conference centers before further shortening the list to a candidate or candidates who will make campus visits.


Members of the group screening applicants to replace UO President Dave Frohnmayer

John von Schlegell, chair, state Board of Higher Education

Kirby Dyess, vice chair, state Board of Higher Education

Willie Blasher, Jr., president-elect, UO Alumni Association board

Tim Boyle, president and CEO, Columbia Sportswear

Suzanne Clark, UO professor of English

Sam Dotters-Katz, UO student body president

Corey du Browa, president, UO Alumni Association board

Scott Gibson, chairman, Gibson Enterprises

Dan Guistina, managing partner, Guistina Resources

Tim Gleason, dean, UO School of Journalism and Communication

Robin Holmes, UO vice president for student affairs

Dave Johnson, former CEO, KinderCare Learning Centers

Gwen Lillis, chair, UO Foundation board

Michael Moffitt, UO professor and associate dean of law

Ed Ray, president, Oregon State University

Max Rayneard, UO doctoral student

Geri Richmond, UO chemistry professor

George Russell, superintendent, Eugene School District

Sandy Schoonover, UO director of residence life

Brad Shelton, UO math professor

Mary Spilde, president, Lane Community College

Cory Streisinger, director, Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services

Mia Tuan, UO professor of education

Paul van Donkelaar, UO professor of human physiology

Lois Yoshishige, UO business affairs
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Title Annotation:City/Region; Some on the search committee are worried that only one finalist will be named
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 8, 2009
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