Presidential Search Update: March 6, 2020
Dear WNE Community,
The search committee would like to update you on the presidential search process.
As you know, we began the search in the fall semester with broad community outreach meetings supplemented by an electronic survey seeking your participation and input in articulating WNE's strengths, challenges, and opportunities facing the next president, as well as the criteria for selection. We incorporated your input into the leadership profile which can be found on our website and which we have distributed to a national and global audience to generate interest in our search.
We established a search committee that represented the key stakeholders of the WNE community, ensuring we hear diverse ideas and a broad perspective of views throughout the search process, and ultimately to make a recommendation of the best-qualified finalists to the Board of Trustees.
We advertised the position in a diverse range of media in print and on-line, and our search firm WittKieffer reached out to several thousand people in leadership roles in higher education and other fields.
As a result, we received nearly 100 nominations and a similar number of applications from individuals representing a broad range of backgrounds, institutions, and fields. Of that initial group, the selection committee evaluated each applicant against the leadership profile and were able to narrow down to a smaller pool of candidates. The candidates will be invited to participate in a formal interview process led by the selection committee at the end of this month. We are happy to say the pool includes very compelling and talented candidates. The search committee members have dedicated many hours and much thoughtful discussion to the review process and will continue to narrow down the field of candidates in the coming months, using the leadership profile to guide them in their deliberations. We remain committed to finding the right fit for WNE and are excited that one of these individuals could be our next president.
We have listened to the WNE community, and we understand and appreciate questions and concerns raised about transparency of the search process. Before we launched our presidential search, the Board of Trustees asked us to conduct a confidential search. A confidential search means that there will not be an open presentation or campus visit and that potential candidates are known only to the search committee members (who have signed a confidentiality agreement) and to the Board of Trustees who makes the final decision (and are also required to maintain confidentiality). We made the decision to keep the search confidential as this enables us to attract the deepest, most diverse, and most highly qualified pool of candidates. Many prospective candidates expect confidentiality in searches at the presidential level so as not to endanger their current positions. The strongest candidates are unlikely to be “on the market,” and instead are likely to be engaged in important work at their current institutions. Some of our candidates are in significant leadership roles in their organizations, and it will be detrimental to their positions and credibility on their own campuses if it were known that they are looking for a new position and then ultimately are not offered the role.
Furthermore, the media environment presents significant challenges to an open search. The potential for an audience member blogging or posting information about a candidate's reputation that contains false or misleading information is real and happening with more frequency. Not only can this damage the candidate's reputation in the short and long term because of how information persists on the internet, it can also damage Western New England's reputation.
We remain committed to carrying out a search with integrity, applying the criteria that you so assiduously shared with us, upholding the university's values including its commitment to students and academic excellence, and diligently conducting references and background checks on our final candidates. We are also examining possibilities to engage additional members of the campus community on a limited basis and subject to confidentiality to engage with the finalist candidates during campus visits. More information will be forthcoming as the committee examines the possibilities.
We hope that this information will help in answering the question of why we are conducting a confidential search as well as what to expect from a confidential search process in the coming months. We remain committed to carrying out a search with integrity, applying the leadership criteria you helped us to create, and upholding the university's values including its commitment to students and academic excellence.
We will continue to update you on our progress.
Please see some examples of explaining the rationale for confidential searches below:
Bay Path University:
In an increasingly competitive higher education landscape, universities and colleges need to find presidential candidates with significant leadership experience in complex and consequential organizations. Virtually all the candidates we will consider for the presidency of Bay Path University will occupy senior roles. They are successful people and highly respected as visible leaders in their home organizations. In a public search process, public vetting with multiple finalists usually dissuades the most experienced candidates from engaging in the search. A candidate’s standing in their current organization – with employees, faculty, board members, donors or others – can be significantly damaged if they are ultimately unsuccessful in a public competition. In the age of the internet and social media, even small activist protests can use harsh language to describe candidates they dislike, sometimes for reasons only tangentially connected to the candidate or reasons that are false. Women and minority candidates are particularly concerned with unfair and hostile attacks that are a form of disguised bias. The fear of public exposure does and should deter candidates. What is on the internet never dies. Candidates find themselves humiliated at home and search committees in other searches avoid them. Even the appearance of controversy can easily deter a search committee in a subsequent search. A bad experience can cost heavily, derailing a promising career. As a result, confidential searches are now the standard for virtually all selective private universities and colleges and increasingly, many public universities. The Board of Trustees believes that it is in the best interest of both the institution and the candidates to follow this standard and maintain a confidential search throughout the entire search process.