Sole U-Wisc President candidate withdraws, in another failure for search firms

From the Chronicle of Higher Ed, here:

The University of Alaska’s president, James R. Johnsen, announced on Friday that he had withdrawn his candidacy for president of the University of Wisconsin system following growing criticism of his record in Alaska and of Wisconsin’s search, which named him its only finalist.

“After deep reflection as to where I am called to lead a university system through these challenging times, it is clear to me and my family that it is in Alaska,” Johnsen, 62, said in a written statement. He said he appreciated the search committee’s strong support, “but it’s clear they have important process issues to work out.”

The “process” was a monthslong search, led by a committee with no faculty, staff, or student members, that ended up with a single finalist.

Suddenly he’s upset about the process? He happily went along with it, until it bit him in the ass. From the Wisconsin State Journal, here:

“Preventing the public from knowing who else applied for this incredibly important position is a violation of public trust,” Lueders [president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council] said. “It’s a slap in the public’s face.”

Naming a single finalist for top jobs follows a recent trend in higher education. Candidates themselves and search firms — which, in the case of UW System, will be paid upward of $200,000 — argue that public naming creates too much professional exposure and potential problems with a current employer for the finalists who are not picked.

It also makes it very clear to potential applicants whose interests they need to care about – not students, faculty, or voters – no one but the Board and donors.

The scheme used by UO’s Angela Wilhelms and BoT Chair Chuck Lillis to select President Schill was even less public. The rules, which will stand for the search to replace Schill unless they are changed – gave Lillis as Board Chair sole authority to select a single candidate for the board to vote on. Schill met with a few select faculty, then was driven up to Portland to meet with Phil Knight.

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7 Responses to Sole U-Wisc President candidate withdraws, in another failure for search firms

  1. Leporillo says:

    Ah yes, the practice of sneaking in candidates to protect them from a backlash at their home school….

    Should have nipped that one in the bud.

    The line of reasoning proffered never really passed my sniff test, but classified staff have relatively little input on decisions of this maginitude-we probably wouldn’t understand the complexity involved.

    If they can’t take that kind of heat (the boss at home being upset that they’re looking around) maybe they don’t belong in a leadership role? Just sayin’ (as the kids just say these days).

    This smacks of some kind of “Trumpian” loyalty test, where one is not even expected to look around for something better, so great is one’s allegiance.

    In a free market, I thought it was assumed that all rational actors would be continually looking to improve their own lot. Therefore it would be reasonable to conclude that everyone is always looking to improve their lot. So we should be able to conclude that even the administrators are looking around, too. Isn’t that part of the reason we are paying them so much, because they are so valuable to us we want to make sure they stay?

    But if they actually are rational enough to look after their own self interest, and some competing institution wants them enough to pay them more..they should go.

    I guess the only alternative to secrecy is that we hire an irrational administrator. It looks we’re boxed in here. But maybe we’re really looking for the most loyal Duck?

    That would be me. Can I be Dean now?

    From my perspective there appears to be a very small circle of highly placed upper level administrators who move from university to university. Well, I suppose they have to come from somewhere, but each time they move they garner an enormous raise! Well, we all know moving can be expensive-unless the cost of the move is covered by the new institution…but that rarely happens any more, does it?

    I believe they also may be using salary comparison to determine base, naturally, and the incoming usually asks for a bit more… But they probably deserve that money, don’t they?

    Easy to see where this all might eventually, over the long run, lead us into the land of administrative bloat.

    I think I learned about something called a “perverse incentive” way back in freshman econ? It’s been a while, and anyway it would take a very cynical person to wonder out loud if some of those highly administrators would ever think about offering a kickback or outright bribe to these small, private firms which operate these closed search companies?

    After all, there are probably hundreds and hundreds of these types of jobs coming open all the time, and a near infinite supply of qualified candidates, so the chance that one of the candidates might actually know and be able the influence the small private search company has got to be very, very small.

    Such a scenario like that could never happen, would it?

    Certainly not here.

  2. Environmental necessity says:

    Do you have any idea what is happening to higher ed in Alaska?

  3. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    Anybody would be crazy to take a job like that now. Next year looks to be a shitstorm of financial disaster, covid explosion, professors bailing. Plus antifa attacks and legislatures breathing down their necks.

    • Dog says:

      One issue – where are the professors going to bail to? Other universities are likely to be in similar conditions; bailing directly to the private sector is not so easy for many profs; and, in these times, its good to have a steady paycheck period – and across the country most profs are able to do this rather than the rest of the generation. Friends in my real life (I have just a couple or so) all lost their jobs (temporarily maybe) but no one I know in my professional circles as lost their job. At NASA, there is a lot of talk about FTE reductions, but I don’t think any of that will happen as NASA has lots of reserves elsewhere. Similarly, I don’t see any reduction in NSF programs. So, not bailing is likely the most sensible thing to do for most profs.

      • honest Uncle Bernie says:

        Some will bail through retiring. Many more through refusal/resistance of any but online assignments. If there is a covid eruption on campus(es) next fall or winter, look for a lot of nervous over-50 professors to re-examine their commitments. Pay cuts won’t help either if students bail. There may even be a reaction against science. We’ll see. It all looks up in the air to me.

        I thought we would get through covid ok if we avoided hysteria. But the hysteria is far more than I imagined. And we may just be starting.

        • Dog says:

          yes bailing through retirement is certainly an option and likely the one that I will choose – I personally have no idea where to find faculty demographics (e.g. what percentage is over 50 – 50% ???)

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