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UM curators set details for presidential search

Interim President Mike Middleton addresses the University of Missouri Board of Curators
Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 12:35 p.m. Thursday with details of search - A committee of more than a dozen people from all four campuses of the University of Missouri will lead the search for a new president of the system.

The board of curators, meeting by teleconference on Wednesday, decided that a search firm would also be hired to find a successor to Tim Wolfe, who resigned his position in November after prolonged protests on the Columbia campus. In the meantime, Mike Middleton will continue serving as acting president.

Besides representatives of the campuses, the search committee will have representatives from various university constituencies, including alumni and the community at large.

The curators decided that the search will be closed at the beginning, with the names of potential candidates kept confidential. Once finalists are determined, the board could open the process and hold public forums around the state, including on the university’s four campuses. The search committee would limit the field to two or three finalists, with the ultimate decision being made by the curators themselves.

Board President Pamela Hendrickson said keeping the names of preliminary candidates private helps ensure a wider range of applicants.

“If you have an open search, then everyone who submits a resume,” Hendrickson said, “their names and their qualifications are known to the public. From the public viewpoint, that has some appeal because they’d like to participate in the process but in the candidates viewpoint, not so much because people are employed and they don’t want their employer to know they’re searching for another job, issues like that.”

The curators will firm up a final search plan during their meeting Feb. 4-5 in Columbia.

KBIA contributed information for this story.

Original story - The University of Missouri could start its search for a new system president later this month.

Under a proposed timeline set for discussion planned for a closed session by the system’s Board of Curators on Wednesday, members of a search committee would be named next month. The committee would hire a search firm, hold public forums on qualifications for a new president, and advertise the position. Candidates would begin to be identified starting this summer.

The new president would replace Tim Wolfe, who resigned in November after prolonged protests in Columbia. On the same day, Mizzou Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin stepped down from his position as well.

Later that week, curators named Mike Middleton, who had been a deputy chancellor at Mizzou before his retirement, to serve as interim president. He said after a curators’ meeting in St. Louis last month that he is keeping an open mind about whether he will seek the job on a permanent basis.

After the curators meeting at UMSL, Pam Hendrickson of Jefferson City, new chair of the board, said she hoped a president could be chosen by the end of the year.

Open, closed or somewhere in between?

Another document to be considered by the curators this week compares various models of presidential searches conducted by other universities.

The models range from a closed search, where conversations between candidates and the search committed remain confidential until a final selection is revealed, to an open one, where such conversations are made public except in certain circumstances such as salary negotiations. Hybrids of the two models also have been used.

The search process that led to the hiring of Wolfe in 2012 was closed.

In general, the document said, the university wants to strike a balance.

“In this digital age,” it said, “many of the elements that impact the search come from access to information and the process of a search of this magnitude. Considerations for candidate confidentiality are important in order to build a robust pool, however, the need to remain as transparent as possible and ensure full engagement from campus, system and community stakeholders is essential as well."

Regardless of what model is used, the document said, certain principles need to be followed:

  • The school’s stakeholders – faculty, staff, students, alumni and the community at large – need to be kept informed.
  • Transparency about the process is important, with regular updates about the expected time for a final selection.
  • Respect and confidentiality has to be maintained for the candidates who are being considered.

And, the document says, conducting a search in the proper way will help restore any trust in the university that has been lost in recent months.
“A well-run search can be an occasion for community renewal and partnership between the board, campuses and communities, as well as an opportunity to elevate expectations about an institution’s future,” it says, adding:

“The two likely goals of this search: finding the right leader for the University of Missouri and designing an inclusive, selective selection process that bolsters the institutions reputation, need to be heavily factored in deliberations.”

The issue of whether a search should be open or closed has prompted debate in higher education. In 2014, when several colleges and universities in the St. Louis area were searching for new leaders, various plans were followed.

At Fontbonne University, for example, where a search led to the selection of J. Michael Pressimone as president, the head of the search committee, John Capellupo said it was important that the four finalists meet a wide variety of constituencies – teachers, students, staff, alumni – before the board made its final choice. So keeping their names secret at that point was not an option.

“Our consultants felt these candidates were such serious candidates, they had to go to the presidents of their current university and get a release that they should continue with the process,” Capellupo said.

“Once that happens, the cat was out of the bag. And it really gave us a great opportunity for everyone who interviewed them on campus to know as best they could who these people were.”

But at Mizzou, Dean Mills, who headed the journalism school at the time that he co-chaired the search that resulted in the hiring of Loftin, felt that using a closed process was the right way to go.

“It’s very hard for a journalist to defend confidentiality in most circumstances,” Mills said, “but I think this is one where it really is needed. Some people just won’t put themselves out there if they know that fact is likely to get around at their present job.

“If you think about what these searches are like, it makes sense. Just because someone lets his or her name be considered doesn’t necessarily mean they really want the job. To put at risk one’s current relationships for a job that, when you look at it more closely, you might not want just doesn’t make sense. I’m for openness everywhere, but think this is one of those situations where an institution is better served if the search is confidential.”

Follow Dale on Twitter: @dalesinger

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.