Friday, April 10, 2009

Don't believe them

In the countries that the Soviet Union liberated from the Nazis and then occupied at the end of World War II, Joseph Stalin promised “free elections.” What the peoples of Eastern Europe found was that the Soviet definition of “free elections” differed from that of democratic nations. In Soviet-occupied Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, etc., Stalin claimed that “free elections” did take place. These peoples were free to elect any Communist they wished…

I thought of this as I read the protestations from the Board of Trustees’ urgent memo issued late yesterday afternoon proclaiming the presidential search process to have been “completely transparent.” Like the Soviet view of “free elections,” it is all in the eye of the beholder.

If as the Trustees claim, “the search advisory committee had access to information about each of the 34 applicants in the pool,” that is news to them. The BOT and the Hollins Group never involved the Search Advisory Committee in the process of winnowing down the 34 candidates to 12. At no time did the Search Advisory Committee ever see, let alone, discuss the 34 portfolios with each other or with the BOT. In fact, the first time anyone from the Search Advisory Committee saw the entire list of 34 was when they reviewed the 12 portfolios that had been selected.

“The search advisory committee was directly involved in the process until the candidate pool was reduced to 12 semi-finalists.”

So, what does “direct involvement” mean to the BOT?

The Search Advisory Committee was permitted to review the portfolios of the 12 pre-selected candidates. Members spent a lot of time reviewing these, making extensive notes in some cases, and filling out a numeric evaluation of them. Unfortunately, no one really understood what the numeric calculations meant because this was never discussed, nor were they part of the process that developed the numeric scoring. At the next meeting of the entire presidential search committee and the Hollins Group, Dr Tolliver moved the meeting into executive session before any discussion of the candidates could take place. When the Search Advisory Committee registered their complaints about this through Dr. Westbrooks, the complaint was acknowledged, but never rectified. Make no mistake, at no point in this search process did the Search Advisory Committee, the BOT search committee and the Hollins Group ever sit down together to discuss the pluses and minuses of each candidate, not the 34, not the 12, not the 5.

"From there, the trustees’ search committee took every precaution to protect the confidentiality of the semi-finalists, all of whom could have jeopardized their current positions if their names were made public."

And herein lies the heart of the matter. The BOT does not trust its faculty, administrators, staff, and students. They admit that the faculty, alumni, administrators, civil servants, and student representatives of Chicago State could not protect the confidentiality of the presidential candidates. What an insulting and condescending thing to say. The members of the Search Advisory Committee are professional and academic people. All of them are adults; almost all were experienced in university-level job hires. Yet these faculty, administrators, staff, and students could not be trusted. This is the clearest example of the top-down administrative authoritarianism that many people last year thought could be changed. Yet here it is in black and white proclaimed publicly. There was no collaboration or transparency in this search process because the Search Advisory Committee could not be trusted.

And what members of the Search Advisory Committee remember clearly is how they were reminded at virtually every meeting, in no uncertain terms, that the final decision would be made by the BOT, and that the Search Advisory Committee would not participate in a vote at any part of the process. The BOT did the hiring and the BOT did the firing. Trustee Finney reiterated this at Thursday’s BOT meeting.

From the start of this process, the BOT chose to distance themselves from the members of the Search Advisory Committee. In his spring 2008 response to the Senate President Yan Searcy’s plea that the process should be truly collaborative and participatory by allowing the Search Advisory Committee a vote, Dr Tolliver said no. Dr. Tolliver reminded the Senate President that Dr. Westbrooks was the chair of the advisory committee, meaning, that the members of the Search Advisory Committee were not to communicate with the BOT except through Dr. Westbrooks. “She is responsible for the management and oversight of the work of the Campus Advisory Search Committee and she is the person who is to report to the Presidential Search Committee on the status of the search process. As stated in the charge, generally, all communications from the Campus Advisory Committee should come from its chair. I am making a special exception to that charge because you have signed your letter as President of the CSU Faculty Senate.” (Tolliver to Searcy, April 16, 2008). The BOT used Dr. Westbrooks' role as chair and the Hollins Group search firm as buffers between itself and the Search Advisory Committee. Add a lack of colleagiality to the criticism of this process.

"The trustees’ search committee, equipped with feedback from all of the constituents, ultimately reduced the applicant pool to five. Next, the trustees’ search committee interviewed each of these five individuals; following these interviews, two individuals emerged as finalists."

If this statement is true, then why did the Trustees have no comment to make at Thursday’s meeting when one member of the Search Advisory Committee told the board that he had polled the other members of the Advisory Committee and found that not one of them had recommended Drs. Watson or Adams for the presidency? What exactly was it that the Search Advisory Committee contributed to this process? Clearly, the BOT chose to ignore any “advice” that was submitted in the handwritten comments. And of course none of the candidates were ever discussed by the BOT and the constituencies represented by the Advisory Committee.

Most damning in all of this process is that there is really no way of knowing just how the BOT ultimately carried out the most important stages of the search process. Since the Search Advisory Committee was not permitted to attend any interviews of the five candidates chosen by the BOT, no one can know for sure what took place at those interviews. The Search Advisory Committee was never informed who these five candidates were. There was no oversight by any body on campus. How were these interviews conducted? How many Trustees attended? What did they ask the potential candidates? At the very least, the Search Advisory Committee could have been utilized as a witness to ensure that the BOT followed their own rules. It was not.

Do not kid yourself. Drs. Watson and Adams are the candidates of the Trustees. There was no meaningful contribution to the presidential search process by the Search Advisory Committee. As far as the BOT are now concerned, the Search Advisory Committee and the university as a whole are now free to interview, free to accept whomever the Trustees have already chosen. This is collaboration? This is transparency? This is what we call freedom in the academy or is it just at CSU?

1 comment:

  1. Corday gives an excellent analysis of the misrepresentations by the Board of the search process, and we should all be grateful to him for that.

    I would like, however, to raise two points. First, while it is correct to raise the quasi-legal case that the Board is not following their own procedure we should not lose sight of the more important point: even if they had followed correct procedure, if the candidates selected would harm the students and the learning atmosphere, they should be opposed.

    Second, the blog begins with a somewhat gratuitous anti-Soviet and anti-Stalin comment about "free elections" (as if elections that cost millions to participate in could be called "free"). Interestingly, in the mid-1930s Stalin carried out a struggle inside the Central Committee for contested, secret ballot elections, arguing that if communists were doing a good job they would be elected, but that if they were not, the people could then send them a message to that effect. Plans for these contested elections were abandoned after the crisis of April through June 1937 revealed an apparent anti-government secret plot inside high levels of the military command. More details of this story, in English, can be found at

    These comments should not be understood to detract in any way from Corday's excellent and helpful analysis. Thanks.