University Senate discusses closed presidential search

Monica Kast

The search for WKU’s next president may be held in secret after candidates are selected, a reality the University Senate chair calls “troublesome.”

Kate Hudepohl, senate chair, told the senate at a recent meeting with Isaacson, Miller, the executive search firm being used by WKU to search for the next university president, she had heard there may be a closed search. This would mean the names of the candidates would not be revealed, and there would not be open forums on campus with the candidates.

“I don’t know that it’s set in stone,” Hudepohl said. “It may change.”

Hudepohl said representatives from Isaacson, Miller said a closed search was a growing trend, and many candidates like to retain confidentiality during a search.

“This person will be part of the campus community and the idea that constituencies that this person will be working with will not get the chance to meet him or her is troublesome,” Hudepohl said.

Isaacson, Miller was officially selected in February by the Board of Regents after a selection process comparing other executive search firms. Since then, the firm has received candidate profiles from students and faculty, hosted an open forum on campus and helped development the official job advertisement for president.

Barbara Burch, faculty regent and presidential search committee member, was present at the meeting. She said the decision of whether it would be an open or closed search was not the decision of the search committee.

“The search committee is charged by the Board [of Regents] to search and screen, and come up with finalists for this position,” Burch said.

Burch said after the finalists have been presented to the Board of Regents, it would be up to the board to decide if it would be an open or closed search.

“The board is the final selection committee,” Burch said.

Several senate members expressed concern about not knowing who the candidates are and being unable to interact with them before a final decision is made.

Lauren McClain, university senator and assistant professor of sociology, pointed out although the decision would not be made by the search committee, several members of the search committee are also members of the Board of Regents.

“If I’m doing my math right, six of the members that are on the Board of Regents are also on the search committee, so I guess I’m a little confused about why you all … are saying you don’t know what the board will do,” McClain said.

Burch emphasized the search committee was not the same as the Board of Regents, and the decision would be made by the full Board of Regents. Additionally, Burch said the search committee does not make the final selection of the next university president, and the Board of Regents will make that decision as well.

The Herald originally reported in February of the Board of Regents decision to hire a professional search firm to find candidates, but there was no discussion at the time of whether candidates would be given a forum for students and faculty.

“The selection belongs to the board, and that is absolute,” Burch said.

Both Hudepohl and Burch said this topic came about from Isaacson, Miller, whose representatives said it was “their understanding” the presidential search would be a closed search.

Burch and Jay Todd Richey, student regent, also gave reports which included information about the new Medical Center the university will be partnering with. Burch said the decision about the agreement was made with “vigorous discussion and vigorous consideration.”

Richey, who said he voted against the Medical Center agreement, said he has concerns about WKU becoming a “pawn,” and in light of recent budget cuts, he disagreed with the decision.

“We’re sending a message that buildings are more important than well-funded athletics,” Richey said, specifically referencing the cuts to the track team’s budget.

However, Richey said he was able to see the agreement was not completely negative.

“There are positives and I hope it works out in the end,” Richey said.

Reporter Monica Kast can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @monicakastwku.