Dear Alma| On Excessive Secrecy

Dear Alma

Dear Alma,

When a scholar interviews for a job in my department, all the faculty can meet her, read her work and give feedback to the hiring committee. So why is the search for our new President so top secret? Isn’t that search more important than for a mere faculty member?


Jess Sayan

Dear Jess,

Candidates for top level jobs need their privacy, we are told. Perhaps their authority back home would slip if their university knew they were looking to change employers.  But, as one of our eminent colleagues said during the last presidential  search “It’s not like it’s the Manhattan Project!”

Actually, it turns out to be a lot like the Manhattan Project — participants in the coming search have been required to sign secrecy oaths, promising not to “make any inquiries (within the University of Illinois or externally) to assess the qualities and potential of any prospective candidate.”

Further, no meetings will be held for faculty to meet or hear from the finalists: the News-Gazette reports that “The search will be closed until one finalist is chosen as the next president, and ‘other names must be held in strict confidence forever,’ according to a committee document.”

Loose lips may sink ships, but we think this excessive secrecy is damaging to shared governance. We hope the Administration will rethink its confidentiality obsession, because the last time an external search firm was hired to find a president and the faculty on the committee were gagged we got ….. Enough said. The more faculty input on this key issue, the better.

Our colleagues in the AAUP also support greater transparency in searches – it recommends that “[S]earches for presidents and other chief academic officers should have an open phase that allows individual faculty members as well as faculty bodies to review the credentials of finalists, ask questions, and share opinions before a final decision is made.”

So we’re with you on this one, Jess. Faculty members across campus should definitely have a voice in the process!

Love, Alma

Published by Susan Davis

I teach in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois.

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