Academe Blog: Headhunters for university presidential searches make their six-figure commissions by promising trustees they’ll deliver an efficient search with high-quality candidates. What they’ve delivered to the University of Colorado is a slow-motion train wreck, as president-elect Mark Kennedy struggles to salvage his candidacy after a “ready-fire-aim” search process in which trustees admit they failed to run thorough background checks.
What’s going on in Boulder-—where Kennedy, now president of the University of North Dakota, was sprung on the community April 10 as the euphemistically titled “sole finalist” for Colorado’s presidency-—demonstrates how public legitimacy is lost when presidential hiring is outsourced to secretive headhunting firms.
My article in the spring issue of Academe, “The Costs of Closed Searches,” focuses on the increasingly common phenomenon of the “finalist list of one,” a trend toward hiring university presidents without bringing any of the candidates to campus or disclosing the identities of those, other than the winner, who received consideration. The AAUP has been outspoken for decades about the importance to shared governance of a transparent and inclusive process in which stakeholders have meaningful input. The consequences of excluding the public are becoming painfully apparent in Colorado, where Kennedy is undertaking a belated campus listening tour in advance of the Board of Regents meeting where his ratification is preordained.
When a candidate is chosen despite significant personal or professional baggage-—in Kennedy’s case, a highly conservative voting record during his time as a Republican member of Congress, including opposition to same-sex marriage, out of step with the mainstream of opinion on his soon-to-be campus-—the public is entitled to an explanation. Were there no comparably well-credentialed applicants? Did Kennedy offer something the other candidates did not?
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