MURRAY — Without naming names, the Murray State University Board of Regents gave an idea of who will be included among the finalists for the campus’ president’s position.
At the end of Friday’s meeting of the Regents, Chair Susan Guess chose to bring the presidential search to the full board with a pair of matters to consider. The first was to bring forward the current interim president as a finalist; the second concerned the search process going forward, with one unexpected change – an amendment from another Regent to not utilize a search firm.
Both measures passed by identical 7-4 votes of the Regents. In both cases, yes votes were supplied by Regents Virginia Gray, Phil Schooley, Katherine Farmer, Eric Crigler, Jerry Rhoads, Dan Kemp and Guess. No votes were cast by J.T. Payne, Sharon Green, Don Tharp and Lisa Rudolph, who is the chair of the search committee that was established in October.
Again, no name was mentioned, even though that position is currently occupied by Dr. Bob Jackson, who was appointed to the interim position in August after former President Dr. Robert Davies left to assume the head spot at Central Michigan University.
Still, at least two of Regents – one who voted for the interim to be elevated and another who voted no – insisted that they had no name in mind.
“My vote was based on the position. I wanted everyone to have a fair shake, for it to be down the middle,” Tharp said. “I think that makes the process cleaner.”
“It was about no name with me,” Kemp said. “The only thing I was basing my vote on was the position that (Guess) brought up.”
Things became particularly heated when the subject of whether to use a search firm was discussed, which developed when Kemp brought forth the amendment on that subject. Rudolph and Payne, the student Regent who is also on the search committee, argued strongly in favor of keeping a search firm involved in the process.
“We have the responsibility to the taxpayers of this state to have a fair and impartial process. I feel like hiring a national search firm is going to bring in the people we’re advertising for,” Rudolph said. “I know that six universities and colleges in this state, over the last eight years, who have hired presidents using search firms. They felt it was an investment in the process.
“I don’t think we can shortcut this, saying we don’t have the money for it (cost for a firm was estimated to be more than $138,000). To have any credibility as a board and to have credibility with the person we put in the position, we have to show everybody that we have exhausted the resources and done everything to bring the most talented people to the table.”
Regent Jerry Rhoads said history shows it is time for a new approach to finding a president.
“I think we all have our own ideas about this and we’ve exchanged views, but I think we have to be guided by our most recent experiences and what has occurred. We’ve had national search firms, and unfortunately, we’ve had a series of short-term presidents, and I think we’ve paid a price for it,” Rhoads said, using as examples the university’s steady decline in enrollment (down to just over 9,400 students this fall) and what he said was low morale on the campus.
“Using a national search firm doesn’t necessarily bring us the right person. We’re going to be given names from all over the country. I also think we should seriously consider the sentiments of our faculty and staff. They have gone on record that they don’t want an outside firm, and I think (the Regents) consider most important the feedback we hear from our faculty and staff, although (the Regents) have the final say in this.”
Kemp based his argument for not using a firm on the fact that he believes the university already has enough resources in place to handle this search itself and without outside help. Rhoads added that the current search for a new athletic director has been going well without such a firm, attracting candidates from numerous Power 5 schools, including Duke and Stanford.
Payne stood up for his own constituency, telling fellow Regents that students have already been heavily involved in expressing their opinions on this matter.
“As far as people needing to listened to, I would argue that right up there are the students,” he said. “We had a student forum and, for some reason, we forget to mention that over 100 student leaders came. I was floored when that number of students showed up. Most of them I didn’t recognize. You saw the passion they had for us to select somebody who is right for that position. One stood up and spoke in favor of a search firm, another against it. So I put the question to them and an overwhelming majority raised their hands and said they wanted a search firm.”
In addressing the Regents before bringing the two items forward, Guess noted challenges that were involved with the selection process.
“We are here to consider a process and I want to remind you to challenge yourselves to put aside all agendas, relationships and influences. There is no wrong answer. No vote is more important than another. We’re all equal and I know we respect one another,” she said, explaining why she felt it necessary to move to have the interim president become a finalist.
“I think, in terms of conversations I’ve had, and others have had, I’ve heard it takes away any fear of fairness not being involved. I think it is, from what I’ve heard, common practice to have an expectation (for the interim to be in the finalist pool) that it would not surprise any candidates.
“All of us are challenged to hear the voices around us and to put that in perspective because we serve to advance the interests of Murray State University. We hear from people we know and respect; we hear from people with influence and sometimes we find ourselves being led by the weight of that influence, and it can be difficult. We must challenge ourselves to make sure the decisions at this table are ours alone. The 11 people at this table have information that no one else has. We are the only 11 people who carry that responsibility to hire a president. It is an awesome responsibility.”
Guess also addressed what she said was an idea circulating in the community that, somehow, the president would be named Friday. That was not the case, she said, as an item such as that would have to be listed on the agenda ahead of time.