Presidential search update

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The University of Dallas seal decorates the wall of the president's office. Photo by Francesca Norman.

The new year promises a new tenant on the third floor of Cardinal Farrell Hall. Now in late January, six months after the presidential search committee members were announced, the committee is scheduled to interview finalists for the University of Dallas’ 10th  president, according to the webpage timeline.

However, the greater part of the UD community will not hear any names until the final selection is announced, scheduled in February.

The remainder of the interviews will be conducted using a new method for the search committee.

The “hybrid approach” will be used in the search moving forward, according to Committee Chair Richard Husseini in a Dec. 27 update published on the webpage.

The Board of Trustees is keeping the finalists’ identities confidential, but including additional representatives in the final interviews. These new representatives are added in order to widen the search committee’s members and to better represent the UD community. The update claimed the new committee members would be asked to participate shortly after the holiday break.

“The Board understands that some may be disappointed not to have the opportunity to provide feedback on the merits of the finalists,” Husseini wrote in the update. “However, we are confident that this methodology is both tried-and-true and optimal for UD.”

In contrast to the original published list of search members, Husseini declined to disclose the identities of the additional representatives for the hybrid search committee. Husseini also declined to comment on whether the identity of the new committee members will be publicly announced along with the number, ages or gender ratio in the future.  

A Sept. 8, 2014 article co-written by Dennis Barden, senior partner with the Witt/Kieffer firm working with the UD search committee, discusses the importance of presidential privacy for candidates who hold high positions at other universities.

Hybrid confidentiality efforts have been made by committees and searches under Witt/Kieffer to attract highly qualified individuals, “a practice considered by many to be contrary to academic tradition,” according to the article. However, the article calls it a necessary process to keep professional candidates from backing out of the interview process.

“We are seeing more and more institutions turn to a ‘hybrid’ search process,” the article claims.

The hybrid method maintains a confidential search “that nonetheless expands the number of people involved,” according to the article.

However, this hybrid approach is unprecedented in UD’s presidential history.

During the 2009 presidential search, final candidates appeared on campus, according to a Nov. 17, 2009, University News article. Presidential candidates Larry Penley, then president of Colorado State University, and Thomas Keefe, then vice president of university advancement of St Louis University, held meetings with Student Government, Braniff Graduate Student Association, and The University News, which published the conversations.

According to a March 31, 2004 article in The University News, students and faculty met Dr. Francis Lazarus, then vice president of academic affairs and provost of the University of San Diego who would later be made president of UD, for an open discussion on his education, fundraising plans, and the necessary relationship between president and students.

The editorial in The University News praised the search committee for coordinating this discussion, writing, “This open door process hints at a level of interaction between all facets of the university that is indeed admirable.”

In 2019, without names and backgrounds to the candidates being made available, the larger UD community has had little involvement with the choices being made.

Regarding the change in privacy in the latest presidential search, Interim President Dr. John Plotts wrote that this approach provides “greater deference … to the candidates’ wishes as it relates to their home institutions.” Plotts also suggested that the advancement of social media and its misuse could have had negative effects on the search were the finalists’ identities made public.

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