GENE ROBERTSON: Accountability more important than secrecy in hiring UM System president

Friday, December 16, 2011 | 1:28 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The faculty, students and taxpayers of MU and the state of Missouri are owed an in-depth explanation of the reason for the secrets surrounding the hiring of the UM System president.

This explanation is owed to all of us by the governor, the curators and our local chancellor, as well as the faculty councils within the UM System. Each of these entities ought to be held accountable for the its participation or lack of participation in this process.

They all are accountable in some way for the lack of transparency surrounding the search process, including the search committee membership and the decisions surrounding transparency.

The search process should not model questionable behavior for students and taxpayers. The curators are endowed with the public’s resources and trust. Their behaviors should be transparent.

The search committee's charge and the rationale for that charge ought to be explained. The steps taken to fulfill that charge ought to be explained.

The range and number of potential candidates ought to be shared. The narrowing process to achieve a list of finalists ought to be explained.

The weeding process that led to the selection of the president should be explained. The decision to choose a corporate administrator rather than an academic administrator should be explained.

If this decision was based upon successes achieved by the previous successes of a non-academic administrator, those successes ought to be made known in the spirit of intellectual candor.

Scrutiny of decision making is an inherent element that is prized at universities. That process is assumed to be instrumental to educating future leaders.

Secret behaviors lead to notions of deviousness, which should not be considered at the beginning of new president's tenure.

It is the responsibility of us all to remove this veil of questions by giving the appropriate explanations that will allow the conduct of the university’s mission with as much integrity imbued in it as possible.

William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeritus at MU.

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Ellis Smith December 16, 2011 | 3:25 p.m.

Your points are well taken, but having 60 years contact with University of Missouri I've noted there is a serious tendency toward secrecy - about many things. In my opinion secrecy has been and remains an inseparable part of this university's culture.

Should it be that way? That we can and should debate.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders December 16, 2011 | 5:30 p.m.

Ellis, it's his job to protect the facade of integrity a.k.a. "accountability." I'm sure he understands the mechanics of the reality just as well as you do, but without voices like his, it would appear that secrecy is publicly sanctioned, rather than accepted as the de facto standard of tradition (resigned to one's fate, because that's just the way it is).

In other words, people like to pretend that "Progressive" politics leads somewhere other than yesterday. But since none will dare undermine the institution that supports them in any meaningful manner, we get nothing but impassioned platitudes to safely fill the skeptical void. You'll notice this article is filled with nothing but "oughts."

Why people believe that power politics can be fashioned into a Utopia is beyond me. That it comes from highly educated people makes it that much more dangerous. While academics are critiqued for being "out of touch" with reality, there's no way they can miss the political reality that surrounds them. Absolutely no way. So what do they do but seek to control it for their own ends?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 16, 2011 | 6:29 p.m.

Thanks, Richard:

Meanwhile, there will be another announcement concerning an official a level just below president. The present chancellor at MS&T retires December 31st and, after a search, his replacement has been found and the candidate will be presented to the president and curators.

That search too was secret.

(Report Comment)
John Schmidt December 16, 2011 | 6:30 p.m.

I can't imagine progressive politics having much of anything to do with the administration of that university.

(Report Comment)

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