Lift the veil on selection of UM president

Sunday, June 10, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:31 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Kennedy is a professor emeritus at the MU School of Journalism.

Our university’s Board of Curators hasn’t managed, as far as I know, to hire a new president yet; but it has given us a perfect demonstration of the evils of excessive secrecy.

All we know for sure about the presidential search is this: The curators and their high-priced consultants sorted through an unknown number of applications and nominations, came up with somebody they liked and tried, but failed, to make a deal.

Thanks to leaks from anonymous sources to the press — and the fatal honesty of one candidate — we’ve learned that Rep. Kenny Hulshof was a candidate and that two other alumni may have made the finals. The chosen one, who didn’t choose us, is thought to have been one Terry Sutton, former head man of a plastics company and newly named vice president of a steel company. A third finalist may, or may not, have been another engineering graduate named William Thompson Jr.

The curators, of course, have confirmed none of this. Indeed, the only official comment came from curators President Don Walsworth, whose misleading and insulting response to reporters’ questions about the Hulshof candidacy was that Kenny “is not a candidate at this time as far as I know.”

So what has been accomplished, other than the expenditure of a great deal of time, energy and money?

The most obvious result to date has been that Kenny Hulshof, the only candidate to identify himself as such, has gone away mad. Somebody always loses in every competition, of course, and although Kenny hasn’t lost often in his career, I’m sure he’ll survive. But why would the curators go out of their way to insult one of the state’s most promising politicians?

Other than that, the price of secrecy has been that we came close to having a new president with no obvious qualifications for the job and with no chance for either press or public to assess those qualifications. And what about Thompson? Was he in the final three, and why? My guess is that we’ll never know the answer to either question.

OK, you may be saying, if this process isn’t a good one, how should a search be conducted? Remember, a lot of these candidates prefer the secrecy.

Fine. Keep the early stages confidential. After all, nobody wants it known that his hat is in the ring when it may be tossed back out. But then, once the list is down to three or five finalists, lift the veil. This is a public institution. The president is a public employee. The curators aren’t his or her only, or even most important, constituency.

Faculty, students, legislators and the tax-paying public should have a chance to take a hard look at the possibilities before the deal is done. No candidate’s reputation or position is going to be damaged by being identified as a finalist. Remember when Brady Deaton was a finalist at Tennessee? That didn’t seem to hurt his chances for his current job.

And you don’t have to look across state lines, or even the county line, to see my proposal in action. That’s the way the university’s new dean of arts and science was hired.

Next time around, maybe the curators will open up. They should. But I’d encourage you not to hold your breath.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Columbia Missourian.

He is a professor emeritus at the

Missouri School of Journalism.

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