COLUMBIA — The search for the 24th University of Missouri System president will again be confidential, the Board of Curators indicated Wednesday during a special meeting.
The board, which met via teleconference, discussed the search in a public session following a 4 1/2-hour closed executive session about updates on personnel matters, Chairwoman Pamela Henrickson said. The board did not vote on any decisions in either session but agreed that the presidential search process should be largely closed. The curators left open the possibility of announcing finalists near the end of the search process.
According to a draft timeline of the search process, the curators will begin seeking a private company to identify a pool of candidates later this month. The curators will meet in February to select members of the UM System's search committee and will hold several public forums across the state from March to April to gather input on desired presidential qualifications. Candidates will be identified over the summer and the search committee will vet them into the fall.
In the meantime, former MU Deputy Chancellor Mike Middleton will continue to serve as interim UM System president, the job he took on after former President Tim Wolfe resigned in November amid protests over his handling of racist incidents on campus.
The presidential search timeline was based on the one used to select Wolfe in 2011, said John Phillips, chairman of the board's compensation and human resources committee.
That selection process, which remained confidential until Wolfe was announced as president, lasted nearly a year. Phillips said during Wednesday's meeting that confidentiality would again be essential to the selection process.
"You'll have candidates withdrawing, candidates not putting their name in if it's too public of a forum," he said. Missouri does not require public universities to reveal the names of their presidential finalists.
One difference in selecting Wolfe's successor will be the omission of an advisory committee during the process, Phillips said. In 2011, the advisory committee made of about 20 faculty, students and alumni, was to evaluate the presidential finalists, but one of the two final candidates withdrew, diminishing the committee's role, Phillips said.
"Although it was an interesting concept, it ended up without really meaningful participation at the end of the process," Phillips said. "It didn't work right."
In place of the advisory committee, the board will expand the search committee to not only include its eight members and a student representative but to also include other students, faculty members and alumni. The board did not determine the exact number of additional search committee members Wednesday but agreed to select people representing all four UM System campuses.
But Phillips and curator David Steelman worried that including too many people on the committee runs the risk of losing confidentiality. "If you have 20 or 25 people, the likelihood of (the search) being confidential is not good," Phillips said.
In discussing the selection of a search firm, curators said they wanted a company with strong experience in academic searches and would consider experience vetting business candidates a bonus.
"The board is completely open-minded" on hiring someone with a business background versus one with an academic one, Henrickson said after the meeting.
But Henrickson wouldn't speculate how the protests that led to Wolfe's resignation would impact the candidate pool. At one point in the 2011 search, the pool included over 100 candidates.
"I'm sure it will affect it," she said. "Whether it affects it negatively or positively remains to be seen."
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