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OU community members, presidential search expert say potential search should be more transparent

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The Board of Regents met Oct. 1, 2017, at OU's Health Sciences Center to discuss the presidential search committee. The Board of Regents has now received a list of finalists for the presidency from the search committee.

As Thursday’s OU Board of Regents meeting to consider the selection of the next OU president approaches, OU community members and experts say another potential presidential search should be more transparent.

At an event on Wednesday, Suzette Grillot, OU professor and former dean of the College of International Studies said the transparency she and others asked for in the previous search is necessary now.

“The best outcomes come from decisions that have been evaluated and scrutinized from a variety of perspectives,” Grillot said. “This is not about Gallogly versus Boren — because we asked for openness (during the 2018 presidential search) because of President Boren.”

Frank LoMonte, a University of Florida employee who has authored several pieces of research on the importance of transparency in the search for college presidents, said OU is now seeing the negative effects of last year’s secretive search.

“I think you’re seeing the consequences of a closed search in the Gallogly administration in several ways,” LoMonte said. “When you hire somebody in a completely secretive process, you start that person off from a disadvantaged position of distrust with the community. When you are a student or faculty member or alumnus and the president is sprung on you by surprise, without any buy-in, you don’t feel invested in that president.”

LoMonte said a successful search relies heavily on the community’s ability to engage with and assess how the possible candidates interact with their community before a hiring decision is made.

“In a well-designed process, the finalists come to campus and the people build some sense of rapport and understanding and that gives the successful candidate a foundation of trust to build upon,” LoMonte said. “I think (Gallogly) stepped into the batter's box with two strikes on him because of the way that he was selected.”

LoMonte said he understands the need for some secrecy in a presidential search, and said it is common when the pool of candidates remains large. But when the search nears its conclusion, LoMonte said, secrecy is not ultimately beneficial.

“When you get down to those last 3 or 4 people,” LoMonte said, “it is absolutely imperative you bring them on the campus and get them familiar with the job, and allow people on campus to get comfortable with them.”

Cameron Burleson, former SGA Vice President and current OU law student who served on the Gallogly search committee, agrees the process should be amended.

“The next process, once they narrow it down to a few candidates, has to be public,” Burleson said. “There has to be some kind of forum where students can come and speak with the candidates.”

Burleson said he thought last year’s process overall was fair from within, but realized after seeing the dynamic between Gallogly and students that an open process would help reduce strain on the student-president relationship.

“The problem is once the process was ended and President Gallogly was chosen, and I saw the interaction between the president and the student body, there was such a rift because of that closed process,” Burleson said. “When I saw that I realized there is just no other avenue you can take besides ensuring students and faculty have a say.”

A common point supporters of a closed search make does not hold up when the candidate pool is narrowed down, LoMonte said.

“The argument the search firms always make is people won't compete for these presidencies because they’re afraid word may get back to their home campuses. That makes sense when you’re at the pool of 100 people, 50 people,” LoMonte said.

LoMonte added that if a search is fully exploring the candidates’ backgrounds, people who have worked with the candidate previously are already likely aware of his or her candidacy.

“When you’re at the pool of three people there is no way that word hasn't already gotten back to their home campuses, because if you're going to say that nobody at the home campus of those three finalists has been told about the candidacy, then that means no background check was done with the current employer,” LoMonte said.

At Wednesday’s event, Daniel Dukes, a former OU staff member, said the Board of Regents cannot afford another failed search following the backlash against the secrecy of last year’s search.

“Regents, you’ve been given a rare do-over,” Dukes said, asking the regents to be more transparent and forward-thinking as they consider possible candidates for OU’s next president.

LoMonte also said the regents should approach this presidential selection differently.

“Having failed the first time,” LoMonte said, “I think it would be insanity to do it the same way the second time....They ought to be bending over backwards to be doubly transparent now, because you can't afford to get this one wrong.”

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