U close to naming finalists for next president

The Board of Regents will first review semi-finalists.

by Conor Shine

After five months of screening and interviewing candidates, the search for the University of Minnesota president is about to enter the final phase.
A 12-member search advisory committee has waded through hundreds of applications to replace current President Bob Bruininks, who is stepping down June 30. The committee will submit a list of semi-finalists to the Board of Regents for review in the next few weeks, Regents Chairman Clyde Allen said.
From the group, a small number of finalists, historically about three, will be chosen and invited to campus for public appearances where the University community will get its first look at the potential presidents. Allen said the board hopes to choose a president by the end of December.
The search has so far been conducted behind closed doors in order to ensure the University gets the best possible applicants, Allen said.
âÄúFor [applicants], I think itâÄôs a matter of probability. If theyâÄôre part of a large pool, their chances of being the final one are slim,âÄù he said. âÄúThey just donâÄôt want to damage their reputations back at the institutions where they are.âÄù
In the 1996 search to replace former President Nils Hasselmo, three finalistsâÄô names were leaked Nov. 16, almost two weeks before the board publicly released them.
In the first week of December, two of the three candidates withdrew from consideration leaving only Mark Yudof, then vice president at the University of Texas. He was named University president Dec. 13.
Three finalists were also chosen in the 2002 search to replace Yudof, but the names of the finalists were not disclosed to the public.
Instead, Bob Bruininks, the UniversityâÄôs interim president at the time, was given the permanent position after a series of closed meetings âÄî even though he was not one of the finalists.
The identities of the finalists were eventually released in August 2004 following a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling on a lawsuit brought by multiple news organizations, including the Minnesota Daily.
The Board of Regents is subject to the Minnesota Open Meetings Act, which generally requires meetings of public bodies to be open. But the search advisory committee is legally allowed to conduct its business in private because it does not have governing power, said Don Gemberling, former director of the stateâÄôs Information Policy Division.
âÄúWhat [the regents] are doing is basically using the language of the open meeting law that works in their favor [with] the objective of interviewing as many applicants as possible without the public knowing who theyâÄôre interviewing,âÄù he said.
Once the finalists are chosen they will all hold public meetings on campus, Allen said, in addition to meeting with student assemblies, the Faculty Consultative Committee, leaders from the UniversityâÄôs foundations and upper-level administrators.
In addition to private interviews with the finalists, the regents will hold a public session with each candidate, which will be webcast online, Allen said.
Although the screening process has been private so far, plant biology professor Kate VandenBosch said the Faculty Consultative Committee, which she chairs, has been consulted throughout the search by the regents.
Some members of the faculty are worried about the possibility that only one candidate will be presented to the public, she said, something that has happened in two of the past five presidential searches.
But VandenBosch said she has faith in the search committeeâÄôs ability to select strong candidates.
âÄúI am convinced that the committee will do the best job possible with the pool of candidates,âÄù she said.
No matter how many finalists are named, VandenBosch said it is important that faculty, staff and students are given the opportunity to question the candidates.
âÄúI think it is critical to have some public forum with the candidate âĦ before a decision has been made,âÄù she said.