Committee’s choice not to hold forums the right one

March 7, 2012

On the advice of the search agency it employs, the Presidential Search Committee (PSC) included open forums as part of the search for Lakeland’s next president last year.

Anyone who wished to attend these forums could, and many did: the room was nearly filled to capacity for each of the forums held for the three candidates.

This year, the new search agency Lakeland hired advised the PSC against holding open forums. Doing this would enlarge the pool of candidates and increase its chances of finding the one that was right for Lakeland, the agency’s representatives said.

The PSC followed the agency’s advise. Chair of the PSC, Jeff Ottum, explained why they followed it in a November interview.

“A lot of people that might be interested in your position – who are typically actively employed and doing great at their current institution – a lot of those people are not even going to apply for Lakeland’s job if they know you might release their names if they become finalists,” he said.

“The reason is because they don’t want to send a signal to their current institution that they’re out looking or that they’re somehow in some way dissatisfied with their position.

“The simple point is that if we can assure candidates that their candidacy will remain confidential, we’re very likely to get more, and stronger, candidates to apply for the job,” Ottum said.

While the democratic approach in the first year of the search for the college’s next president gave every member of the Lakeland community who wanted to be part of the selection process the ability to be, it attracted only 47 candidates, and yielded no new president.

This year, after choosing not to hold forums, the PSC received 86 applications – nearly double the amount as the year before. The PSC’s choice almost certainly contributed substantially to the spike in applications it received, and doubled the likelihood that it will find a person suitable to be Lakeland’s next president.

Even though this approach prevents everyone who might want to participate from doing so, it still gives representatives from the faculty, staff, and student body a say in the decision and, again, doubles Lakeland’s chances of finding the right person to replace retiring President Stephen Gould, a compromise worth making.

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