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UW Search Process Strikes Proper Balance


November 12, 2012 — By Dave Bostrom

As Wyoming’s only university, the University of Wyoming appropriately receives significant scrutiny from a public that has high and wide-ranging expectations. As the leader of the state’s university, UW’s president fills a prominent statewide role to assure that the institution is meeting those expectations.

So it’s no surprise that the university’s upcoming change of leadership is a matter of high interest in Wyoming. The UW Board of Trustees’ search for a successor to President Tom Buchanan, who’s retiring as president next year after a period of tremendous progress, has attracted attention across the state from people who care about the university and want to see it reach even greater heights.

The Board of Trustees is committed to finding a highly qualified, highly skilled person capable of leading the university in such a manner. The board has adopted a search strategy to accomplish that objective. It involves a significant amount of public involvement, along with a dose of necessary confidentiality.

Already, representatives of our search consulting firm have met with people on and off campus to gather input to shape the position profile for the presidential search. And in a series of public meetings around the state this week, members of the public have the opportunity to express their desired qualifications and characteristics for UW’s next president. If you aren’t able to attend one of the meetings, you’re invited to submit your input by going to the UW presidential search web page, www.uwyo.edu/presidentsearch.

The search process also will include direct, extensive input from a wide range of folks participating in two screening committees. I’ve appointed 23 people to serve on the committees, which will narrow the list of job candidates to about a dozen, then to five or more finalists. The committee members, whom we’ve publicly identified, include fellow trustees and UW Foundation Board members; faculty, staff and students of UW; along with a state legislator, a community college president and representatives of several Wyoming industries.

The entire Board of Trustees -- a 12-member group that itself represents the diverse interests and geography of our big state -- will interview each finalist and then select the new president. The board plans to introduce the new president by Feb. 27.

Now, about the need for some confidentiality.

While our screening committees and statewide input-gathering sessions represent an earnest effort to engage the public in this process, we also are committed to attracting the deepest possible pool of candidates from which to choose a talented, proven leader. The best way to obtain such a pool is for us to not publicly name any of the candidates, including the finalists.

President Buchanan and all of the higher-education search consultants we interviewed were unanimous in pointing out that confidential searches yield bigger, better candidate pools than searches that disclose candidates’ names. The Chronicle of Higher Education has noted that more and more universities are going with searches like UW’s. That’s because when a search is public, sitting presidents may hesitate to apply for the job, fearing backlashes on their current campuses. We want the candidate pool to include candidates internal to UW, sitting presidents of other universities, as well as nontraditional candidates from industry and government. I’m convinced we will attract those applicants with a confidential search.

There’s good reason for us to cast a wide net in the presidential search. UW’s profile truly has risen among the ranks of the nation’s public universities, and Wyoming’s relatively favorable economic climate makes the university an attractive place for people interested in leading growth and innovation. While most of our peer institutions have scrambled to deal with declining state support and budget difficulties in recent years, UW has enjoyed strong support from our state elected officials. That presents a tremendous opportunity for Wyoming to attract top-flight presidential candidates from across the country -- a chance we risk missing if we don’t keep their names confidential.

A confidential search is consistent with Wyoming’s open meetings law, which allows public bodies to privately “consider the appointment, employment, right to practice or dismissal of a public officer, professional person or employee.”

Some media organizations have objected to the fact we’re not going to identify finalists. They argue that the public should have the opportunity to learn about the candidates and provide input on the decision. I acknowledge this argument, but there must be a balance between openness and obtaining a result that is best for the university and the state. We’ve struck the proper balance with our screening committees, our input-gathering sessions and candidate confidentiality.

Rest assured, the trustees recognize the importance of the task we have before us. It’s wonderful to know that so many people in Wyoming are deeply interested in the future of our university and have a stake in the selection of its next leader. While we understand there’s great interest from members of the public in the people we consider for the job, the public interest will be best served by the process we have chosen.

Worland businessman Dave Bostrom is president of the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees.

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