Regents: law deters president search inquiries

Brad Unangst and

As the University launches its nationwide search for a new president, regents are concerned Minnesota’s open meeting law could hinder their ability to attract the best candidates.

To keep the candidate names quiet, Regent Frank Berman suggested the board not voluntarily comply with the law.

“This is the single greatest barrier to getting a sitting president,” he said at a board meeting Thursday.

Under the law, a state executive governing body must conduct business in public, which means the names of potential candidates interested in the University’s presidency would be revealed.

Not abiding by the law might be an option for the board because the University was established prior to Minnesota’s statehood and is guided by its own charter, said University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg.

“The regents predate the Constitution of Minnesota, and that’s why we’re a little different,” he said.

Academic search officials have said protecting the candidates’ names during the search is a concern that should be taken seriously.

Potential candidates are usually unwilling to expose themselves to criticism for having an interest in an open position elsewhere, said Ted Marchese, a senior consultant for the Academic Search Consultation Service.

Sitting presidents at other institutions could lose their jobs if it is perceived that they are interested in leaving, he said.

Universities that are not legally bound to comply with open meeting laws, including the University of Texas System and many in the Big Ten, attract the most qualified candidates, Berman said.

Despite the difficulties, Regent David Metzen said he remained confident an effective search could be completed under the current law, citing the 1996 presidential search under similar circumstances that resulted in hiring Mark Yudof.

“I believe in process, and I think if you stay true to the process Ö it does work,” Metzen said.

While acknowledging there are obstacles created by the law, other regents said completing the search process in a timely manner is important.

“I think it would be a mistake to try to challenge the law at this stage,” said Regent Robert Bergland. “We have to play the cards dealt to us, like it or not.”

A legal challenge could lengthen the search process, Rotenberg said. He added that he would advise the regents on their options this week.

Bill Funk, a search consultant for Korn/Ferry International who is assisting the board in the search process, told regents that even with the challenges, candidates would be available. The University offers attractions to potential presidential candidates that make the public exposure risk worth taking, he said.

Funk said the biggest attraction for a new president might be the opportunity to create a lasting legacy.

Although the law’s application to the formal interview process remains unclear, board members are intent on naming a president by the end of the year and will announce the search advisory committee members this week.

“We’ll need to work our way through those concerns,” Board Chairwoman Maureen Reed said. “There’s no perfect process.”


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