Editor’s note – This article was updated Feb. 1 after the release of an email from Ron Norick, search committee chairman and president of the board of trustees. Changes were enacted after the article ran in the paper, published Jan. 31.
Officials plan for OCU’s 18th president to take office in July, but members of the presidential search committee refuse to discuss their progress on finding President Robert Henry’s replacement.
Henry announced last summer that he will retire in June due to medical reasons. Ron Norick, search committee chairman and president of the board of trustees, previously told Student Publications that “active recruitment” for the university’s next president would begin in December, with preliminary interviews completed in February.
Norick refused Jan. 23 to provide an update on the search committee’s progress, including the number of applicants or candidates. Joey Croslin, vice president for human resources and secretary of the search committee, said Friday there were no updates on the search. President Robert Henry was unavailable for comment Jan. 23.
The board of trustees met Jan. 24 for a regularly scheduled meeting. Randy Gipson-Black, Student Government Association president and member of the board of trustees, was at the meeting and said a brief update of the search was provided. Gipson-Black said Monday the committee is narrowing down the candidates to the finalists. He said there is a list of candidates, but he was unsure how many names are on the list.
“The search has been a very private affair, mainly because many of the candidates are currently employed,” Gipson-Black said.
Gipson-Black also said he is unsure if the search committee is on schedule for February interviews.
A website, okcu.edu/admin/hr/president-search, was created in October to announce updates on the search, but the most recent update provided is from November.
The site also features an application form, which requests a resume, cover letter and list of references, though references aren’t required to be contacted. Nomination letters may be sent to Jan Asnicar at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asnicar works for Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, the executive search firm working with the search committee’s members to find a president.
Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates is the same search firm working with University of Oklahoma in Norman to find a new university president after President David Boren retires at the end of the academic year. OU’s search is following a similar path, including hosting focus groups and releasing a description of the search committee members, but no information on potential candidates was released as of Jan. 24.
Frank LoMonte, director at the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, said there aren’t any legal issues with the concealing of the selection process at a private institution, but there are reasons why it’s in the university’s best interest to reveal information.
“Legally speaking, the public isn’t entitled by law to any particular degree of access,” LoMonte said. “Any access that they give is really a matter of judgment, professionalism and ethics.”
LoMonte said there should be more information released by the time the search is narrowed down, and, once it gets to that point, the “job security” argument would not hold up.
“I cannot imagine, in the year 2018, that any college is hiring a president without talking to the people at their present workplace,” he said.
LoMonte also said there should be no reason for secrecy if job security of potential candidates is not endangered. He said many national search firms keep information secret, but that’s not what’s always best for the university.
“To just do the decision behind closed doors and then let people find out months later has really caused people to feel betrayed, and it hasn’t done the presidents any favors,” he said.
LoMonte also said he hopes universities rethink their selection processes to make information entirely open.
“People on the campus will feel more ownership of the decision,” LoMonte said. ‘They will really feel like this is their president as opposed to a president that has been pushed upon them by the trustees.”
University officials had a similar search process when Henry was hired but did not use a national search firm. Officials did not release candidate names during that search either.
Leslie Berger, senior director of university communications, said the main difference between this selection process and the selection process eight years ago is that, this time, students had an opportunity to give their input about what qualities they value in a president.
The search committee hosted focus groups in October asking for opinions from staff, students, trustees, and alumni. Officials posted the findings on their search website.
Victoria Mayhall, political science sophomore, said she wants what’s best for the university but feels like she’s not well informed on the process.
“I understand why the university would want it to be confidential, but, because of who the president is, it’s important to students, you know, he’s the face of our university–I do think students should have some knowledge,” Mayhall said.
She also said the website is useful to stay informed and give feedback, but she’s hoping for more updates soon. Mayhall said she’s looking for a president who is approachable and personable.
The search committee is looking for “a leader who is energetic, dedicated, creative, and fair, and who has a sincere appreciation for the spiritual values of many faith traditions, particularly of the United Methodist Church,” according to the presidential search website.
Listed responsibilities include developing relationships with businesses and with the Oklahoma City community, evaluating high-level administrators and overseeing long-term planning.
Carly Youngberg, English sophomore, said she hopes the new president upholds university values.
“They should be uniquely qualified and researched because of the nature of the position,” Youngberg said.
Youngberg said financial responsibility is another important factor in the next president.
“I would hope that they find a president who keeps the university’s financial interest in mind and has fundraising skills so we can prevent tuition hikes in the future,” she said.
Note – Ron Norick said in a Feb. 1 email there have been nearly 40 applicants, which was narrowed down to a select amount of semi-finalists. The committee will conduct in-person interviews with these candidates.
Norick said the board is set to have an individual selected by April.
“The president search committee is on track with the timeline for the search process that was shared with the campus community last fall,” Norick wrote.
He said information about final candidates will be released at a later time.
“Confidentiality is very critical as most of the candidates are currently employed in key leadership positions at other higher education institutions and organizations,” Norick wrote. “It is typical for the names of applicants and candidates progressing through the search process to remain confidential at this stage in the search process.”