Presidential search committee discusses specific candidates

Emma Collins

The Presidential Search Committee discussed several specific candidates for WKU’s next president in a closed session on Friday while the decision of an open and closed search hangs in the air.

The applicants were selected by Isaacson, Miller, the search firm hired by WKU to aid in the presidential search. Phillip Bale, chairman of the search committee, said Isaacson, Miller had contacted around 200 people and narrowed that list down to a short list of around 30 candidates. Bale said the applications from those 30 candidates were discussed during the closed session.

“Most of the people we looked at we were able to look at not only their CVs but in many cases letters of nomination or letters from the individual themselves,” Bale said.

Because it is still early in the search process, Bale said he expects to receive more applications. However, so far he said he is pleased with the high quality and wide range of diversity in the current pool of applicants selected by Isaacson, Miller. While no decision was officially made, Bale said he thought the committee was able to eliminate some of the applicants.

Three representative of Isaacson, Miller were also present during the meeting. Before closing the meeting to the public, the representatives gave brief update on the progress of the search.

Jeff Kessner, one of the representatives, said the search firm had been in contact with around 200 potential applicants and sources for other applicants. Kessner said the firm had received many positive responses praising President Gary Ransdell for his work with the school. He said people had also responded positively to WKU’s outreach and its ability to continue to grow.

Mike Baer, another of the firm’s representatives, said the firm had also received questions from applicants. Baer said many people were concerned about the state of higher education in Kentucky and Gov. Matt Bevin’s attitude toward post secondary education. Baer said applicants also questioned WKU’s capacity for fundraising.

“These are some of the questions we have to work through when we’re talking to prospects to persuade them that this a good place and this is a place where things are going to move forward,” Baer said.

The seven-member committee and the three representatives from Isaacson, Miller spent nearly three hours behind closed doors discussing the applicants. At the end of the meeting, no official decisions, including the decision on whether to have an open or closed search, had been made.

After Regent Julie Hinson, who was previously appointed to the search committee as president of the WKU Alumni Association, was appointed on the Board of Regents by Bevin over the summer, the search committee now has a majority of regents with five board members.

Journalism professor Mac McKerral had attended the open session of the meeting hoping to be recognized by the committee to express his opinion about a presidential search that is closed to the public. Before the meeting, he had written a memo to Bale explaining the reasons he believed the search should be open.

In his memo, McKerral said leaders of a public university, in this case, WKU’s Board of Regents, have a responsibility to conduct important business in the open where the public can observe. McKerral said in the past WKU’s administration had become less transparent, and the faculty and staff’s trust in the university’s leadership had faded.

“This search process provides a unique opportunity to begin restoring confidence and to show a newly appointed president that WKU embraces openness, transparency and conducting university business in the best interest of the WKU community and the public,” McKerral said in his memo.

After the search committee meeting, McKerral, who ultimately was not acknowledged at the meeting, said he understood why some candidates and members of the Board of Regents and search committee may want a closed search. McKerral said the closed search offers protection to applicants who worry they may lose money if it is discovered they are looking for another job.

McKerral said the search committee might also be against an open search because they worry applicants will not submit their names if they are not guaranteed full confidentiality. He said he does not believe candidates who truly want the job will not apply just because it is an open search.

“I just don’t buy into the theory that good people won’t apply if someone’s going to know who they are,” McKerral said.

Bale said no decision has been made on whether to open or close the search. He said it is a decision that ultimately rests with the Board of Regents.

“The process itself we’ve made as transparent as we could possibly make it. We’ve had at least seven open forums where we’ve sought input as we’ve developed our position profile,” Bale said. “We will continue to do that throughout this process.”

Bale also said revealing the names of the applicants too early could have a negative impact on the rest of the search.

“To reveal names of applicants at this point would absolutely poison our quality and diversity and quantity of our applicant pool,” Bale said. “I think that’s how most of the search committee feels.”

Reporter Emma Collins can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @thebest_dilemma.