Sunday, April 19, 2009

Who are they? Why do we have to listen to them?

On Friday, April 17, all but two members of the Search Advisory Committee resigned from the Trustees' presidential search process. This action was predicated on a document placed in their hands at the beginning of that meeting that stated, in no uncertain terms, that the BOT did not have to be bound by anything the advisory committee could say to them.

And yet, the BOT decided very early on to bind themselves to an "expert advisor" by the name of Rita Bornstein, Ph.D. and President Emerita & Cornell Professor of Philanthropy and Leadership at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida and to the "advice" of their legal counsel, Mr. Mark Dunn.

At the beginning of the executive session on Friday, the Search Advisory Committee (alternately known as the "Campus Advisory Committee" depending on which document you follow) was given a 7-page document from Mark Dunn largely repeating information he had written to them in January 2009. Certain portions of this text are pertinent to repeat here to answer the question I posed above. Who are these people? and why do we have to listen to them?

"I have been told that there is a possibility that Campus Advisory Committee may soon recommend that the Presidential search process currently underway should be scrapped and the process should start again. I have been asked whether the Presidential Search Committee of the Board of Trustees is obligated to follow, or abide by, such a recommendation. ..

"Last year Rita Bornstein, Ph.D. and President Emerita & Cornell Professor of Philanthropy & Leadership at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida was selected as an expert advisor on matters related to the proper methods to follow in conducting searches for college and university presidents. Dr. Bornstein met with the Presidential Search Committee members and other representatives of University constituencies to lay out the general process that should be followed in CSU's search for a new president.

Dr. Bornstein laid out the following steps that should be followed and presented these steps to all of those assembled for her presentation. I have added check marks before the steps she laid out to indicate the parts of the process that have been completed to date...

Whoever these "other representatives of University constituencies" were who met with the BOT and Dr Bornstein, I do not know and frankly, I doubt their existence. I wonder how much Bornstein's "expert advice" cost the university?

Dunn's text continues with an outline of the process. He emphasizes throughout the document the "advisory" capacity of Search/Campus Advisory Committee. Six pages later, he concludes:
From all of the foregoing, it seems clear to me that the Campus Advisory Committee is supposed to "help and advise" that committee. The Campus Advisory Committee has no role that allows it to veto or call for the termination of the search process. Such a recommendation is outside the scope of the Charge to that committee. Of course, any group of people (whether or not constituted for a particular purpose) has a right to state their collective opinions on a matter of public concern. Clearly, the selection of a new CSU President is a matter of public concern. However, such a recommendation is not properly considered to be within the scope of the Charge to the Campus Advisory Committee and has no "official" force or binding effect.

Until February 2009, the Search Advisory Committee did not question the BOT's right to be the last voice in choosing the president of Chicago State University. But since the start of this process the BOT has chosen to listen to outsiders rather than the CSU community itself, notably the so-called "expert adviser" of this process Rita Bornstein and their own lawyer, Mark Dunn. The BOT chose to ignore the general will of the CSU community that was expressed in Dr. Yan Searcy's letter to President Tolliver last year and even now, one year later, chooses to ignore the overwhelming display of dissatisfaction with the search process that occurred last Monday and Tuesday on campus.

Last year on April 7, 2008 Dr Searcy wrote:
On Friday April 4, 2008 I attended the Council of Illinois University Senates spring 2008 meeting at Illinois State University. I inquired about presidential search process dynamics at the other state universities that were represented. Northeastern Illinois University's Board of Trustees utilized an advisory board. However, the board had no vote and also did not sit in for the first round of interviews. It was noted as a very closed process that promoted a strained campus environment.

Illinois State University and Southern Illinois University, for example utilized advisory committees that allowed substantial participation and provided members with the ability to put forth the names of desired candidates through voting at the committee level. SIU's advisory committee also participated in "airport" interviews. From the reports of other faculty senate presidents at the meeting, open processes served the campus, candidates, and community well...

Because of the closed meeting [of March 27th 2008] and because members of the Advisory Committee do not have a vote, the process appears neither transparent nor collaborative. In addition because the meetings are open to the public, and the public do not have votes, it seems that there is no reason to have an advisory commitee if they have no actual role in the selection since they are no more participants in the process than the general public.

I am bringing this to your attention at this early juncture in the process so that it can be addressed and rectified to avoid contention and controversy...

Suffice it to say, Dr Searcy was much more prescient about the search process than the so-called "expert" on presidential searches, Rita Bornstein.

The Search Advisory Committee was not rash in its decision to resign on Friday from the farce that has played out over the past few months known as the CSU presidential search. It was the BOT, not the Search Advisory Committee, that drew the line in the sand. There has been no communication in this process, no transparency, no collaboration, there has not even been the nod of respect to have a word of conversation between a member of the BOT and a member of the Search Advisory Board. Dr Tolliver made it clear in his response last year to Dr Searcy that Dr Westbrooks would be the spokesperson for the Search Advisory Committee and any communication with the BOT must go through her. On Friday, not one member of the BOT, could speak the words in person that their lawyer had written. The lawyer told them that the Board did not have to listen to Search Advisory Commitee, nor, apparently, did they have to say anything to them. And that was the last straw. The resolution to resign that the Search Advisory Committee presented to the BOT was completed ahead of time, but it did not have to be presented. The BOT, however, could not see it any other way.

The questions we should be asking now: who are these people who listen to so-called expert advice from a woman from Florida, but reject precedent and real-life Illinois experience and advice from the community's own Faculty Senate President? Who are these members of the BOT and why should we listen to them? What expertise do they bring to our institution that we should value what they have to say? To my knowledge none of them has managed a university. So we should listen to them because they hold their politically-appointed trustee office from a governor who is now indicted? I would really like to know, why do we have to listen to them?

1 comment:

  1. I cheer (hooray!!) the Search Advisory Committee members who made a stand against the BOT. The spirit of resistance is the best meaning of democracy, not taking a vote but taking action.