EDITORIAL: Transparency, honesty should be foundation for CMU president search

President George Ross answers a question directed toward him at the Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 15 in the President's Conference Room.

As Central Michigan University begins the task of finding its next president it's clear that most of us won't get to be a part of it.

Of the 13 people responsible for input in the presidential search, one of them is a student and none are fixed-term faculty members. A number of trustees, wealthy alumni and an administrator who will work for this person will play the largest role in choosing our next president. Search Committee Chair and trustee Tricia Keith said it clearly at last week's meeting: the process would be "confidential." 

"The process — including the names of finalists — will be confidential, as has been the protocol during the past several CMU presidential searches," a University Communications press released stated. "Search firms advise confidentiality in order to attract the best possible candidates, Keith said."

Transparency should be the foundation of the search process. Shutting students, faculty and staff out of the process is a mistake. It will foster a culture of suspicion and university administrators and trustees will be the recipients of that anger and mistrust. 

Tuition dollars fuel this university. State appropriations are only a fraction of how the university is funded today. The successor to George Ross will be responsible for establishing tuition rates and deciding how those dollars are spent. We are not suggesting that every student should get a vote on who will become the next president, but we expect to have a front-row seat to watch the process unfold. 

Trustees, here is what students, faculty and staff want from your search process: 

• We should be able to know who did, and didn't, advance in the selection process.

Typically, three or four finalists are announced near the end of a search. That's it. 

We don't think that's enough. At the end of the process we want to know how many applicants were considered. We want to know how, and why, they are eliminated. We want to have access to their applications. If CMU graduates leaders – students and staff – we want to know if there are internal candidates and how far they advance. 

• If a candidate wants his or her name withheld during the search, immediately disqualify them. 

We've often been told, by university and City of Mount Pleasant officials, that if candidates are identified during a search they would opt out and the search would be worse for it. These candidates want to be able to privately, quietly search for a new job without their employers or employees learning about it. 

This is laughable. If you want to be the next president of CMU – put your "stamp" on it. 

A university president shouldn't shy away from scrutiny — they should prepare for it. By not even wanting to put the most basic information out there — name, job history, tenure in academics — it's already setting a poor precedent. Do we really want candidates who don't have the courage to let their employers know they are looking for a job? And honestly, do we believe someone would apply for this position and expect to advance in the search but wouldn't give their current employer a heads-up before becoming a finalist?

CMU has shown through past searches it isn't concerned with outside perspectives. Take the most recent hire of Athletics Director Michael Alford. The closed AD search was done during the summer and no opportunity was given to media to speak with the candidates. There was not a meet-and-greet session for students and staff, either.

We, students and taxpayers, deserve better than that. 

• The search firm you hire is working for CMU, not just your search committee. 

We sometimes hear from administrators that some university practices, like searches, could be improved if they were "run like a business." Search firms are just that – professional organizations tasked with getting qualified people to apply for a job and then creating a process for candidates to be evaluated. 

Once the job is done, they are gone. Any damage or controversy the firm causes remains. 

We're not a business. We're a university. 

We're students whose educational careers hinge on the choices made by trustees and administrators. Our university also includes staff and faculty – many of whom came here because they believe in our educational mission and need support to deliver on that promise. We are also a community of alumni and Mount Pleasant neighbors and business owners who want to see CMU maintain its stature in Michigan and beyond. 

We expect that members of the search committee will act with all of our best interests at heart. We know they want the best for CMU. So don't be afraid to give all of us a window into the entire process, even if your search firm advises you against it. We deserve full insight into your selection process. 

You've got a tough job to do. We wish you the best of luck. 

Don't start this process by giving us a reason not to trust you.