Opening Up the Presidential Search?

With the termination of Mark Schlissel, the University of Michigan begins a search for a new President. The UM AAUP chapter immediately began work to request a public search. Working in conjunction with SACUA, the chapter drafted a position statement on the presidential search. The statement requests the following:

  1. That there be broad representation of UM stakeholders on the search committee;
  2. That at the point of identifying 3-5 finalists, a broader group of UM stakeholders be enabled to evaluate and engage with them, ideally by announcing the finalists publicly.

The rationale for these requests is that a public university should enable a public vetting of its president; that broader stakeholder engagement increases trust in the final decision; that a public search is most likely to uncover any problematic histories, and that the main argument against a public search — that it would discourage qualified applicants — is based on little evidence. In fact, up until the search for UM President Lee Bollinger in 1996, all UM presidential searches were public; and, Bollinger’s publicly named rivals, Carol Christ and Larry Faulkner went on to become heads of UC Berkeley and UT Austin, respectively. (The detailed argument is provided in the statement.)

The first point was thankfully met by the Regents even before we conveyed our request. The announced Search Committee includes broad representation of students, staff, alumni, labor, and faculty, with diversity in race, gender, and gender identity. In meetings with SACUA and the Senate Assembly, Board Chair Jordan Acker indicated that the Regents wanted to rebuild trust with the UM community, and that broad representation on the search committee was an intentional step in that direction.

The second point, however, has faced resistance. Immediately after the search committee was announced on Feb. 8, 2022, the UM AAUP Chapter and SACUA sent the position statement to all Search Committee members (including the Regents). On Feb. 14, a request to publicly announce the finalists was again made to Regent Acker by several members of the Senate Assembly (including UM AAUP chapter members). Regent Acker, however, was firm in indicating that the Board would not announce finalist names.

The UM AAUP chapter is disappointed with this decision. However, we will continue to press for other means to ensure a thorough vetting of the finalists in a way that is favorable to UM stakeholders.