Today is a big day for North Carolina’s flagship public university. The UNC Board of Governors may give its OK to hire the next chancellor at UNC Chapel Hill.
Who’s in the running? Nobody knows except a handful of insiders.
That’s because this search has been top secret. An appointed search committee hired a professional search firm that specializes in recruiting chancellors. The firm recommended names to the search committee, which in turn recommended finalists to UNC system President Erskine Bowles for a decision. Mr. Bowles could have — and should have — made those names public. But he didn’t.
As a result, the hiring process for one of the state’s most visible public intellectuals, the leader of one of its most important institutions, has been cloaked in as much secrecy as some private company picking a chief executive. Members of the search committee even had to sign mandatory confidentiality agreements.
It shouldn’t have happened that way. UNC Chapel Hill has always fancied itself “the people’s university.” That means the people — students, faculty and citizens around the state — should have been in on this decision.
Certainly there’s a need for confidentiality in public leadership searches until finalists are chosen. But once someone is a serious contender, the public ought to know who’s under consideration.
It’s not just UNC Chapel Hill that retreats behind closed doors to pick leaders. Almost every recent chancellor search the UNC system has conducted has been top secret. A notable exception: Fayetteville State University this year did a remarkably open (and successful) chancellor search, even inviting finalists to campus to meet with students, faculty and the community.
Why does openness matter?
North Carolina’s 16 state universities are public institutions. Their funding rests heavily on tax dollars and tuition. There’s a moral obligation to conduct business publicly, especially when it comes to picking top leadership.
There’s also a practical consideration: Openness and public participation in a chancellor search permit citizen input and build confidence in a key decision about who’ll lead an influential public institution.
Mr. Bowles and the UNC Board of Governors would serve the state well if they’d set a standard for public participation in chancellor searches and for releasing the names of final contenders.
I’m not sure where I shake out on this. I certainly am dispapointed in such linear and limited thinking in the editorial. Surely they grasp this multi-dimensional issue more than they present in their comments.
The editorial states that “there’s a moral obligation to conduct business publicly, especially when it comes to picking top leadership.” But, there is also a moral obligation to hire the BEST candidates for key roles. Doesn’t a moral obligation also exist to build the most broad, diverse and strong candidate pool as possible? What if an ‘open process’ were to limit the likelihood of
The world that exists in reality is not some idealistic la-la-land where everything is as it ‘should’ be. In reality, top potential candidates may be hesitant to publicly pursue jobs because of understandable fears of criticism and (in some cases, retribution) from their current employer or because they may weaken their political position on their existing campus.
(Note – please do not try to connect NC State to the equation of how the rest of the world works. For example, the University’s acceptance of years of Lee Fowler’s open job searching is baffling. Note to new grads who are just entering the work force: the rest of the world does not work this way. Job searches should be done discretely.)
Update – I was WRONG! CHAPEL HILL GOES INTERNAL!
Hires Holden Thorp, a chemist and current dean of UNC-Chapel Hill’s College of Arts & Sciences.
But Thorp has never run a university, and he represents a significant departure from past leaders of the state’s most well-regarded public institution. Moeser headed the University of Nebraska prior to coming to Chapel Hill. Moeser’s predecessor was Michael Hooker, who led the University of Massachusetts before taking the helm at UNC-CH.
Thorp’s background is also a different from his predecessors. Hooker was a philosopher, Moeser, a musician. Thorp is a well-regarded chemist, with a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology and postdoctoral work at Yale University.