Students and faculty raise concerns over process of finding Mason’s next university president
BY JACK HARVEY ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR; HAILEY BULLIS AND DANA NICKEL CO EDITORS-IN-CHIEF
Mason’s Presidential Search Committee convened in an open forum to hear from students and faculty about their hopes for Mason’s next president. The listening session was open to the public in Merten Hall on Oct. 30. Two members of the committee, Chair of the Faculty Senate Shannon Davis and Vice Rector of Mason’s Board of Visitors (BOV) Jim Hazel took questions from the students, faculty and staff that attended the event.
“We need to hear from you,” Davis said as she addressed the crowd at the forum. “What evidence do we need to find in [candidates’] resumes that people will submit to us that will let us know that they’ve met our minimum qualifications?”
The forum quickly turned away from a discussion about the next president to a discussion about the search committee’s process. Members of Transparent GMU, Mason For Survivors and Mason’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) were all present at the event.
Representatives from each organization expressed concern about the way the search for the new president has been handled so far.
During the last presidential search, in which former Mason president Angel Cabrera was chosen, faculty were only allowed to meet him after signing a non-disclosure agreement. The general faculty was excluded from meeting with or knowing about finalists.
Meeting attendees were handed a bulleted list of minimum qualifications for the incoming president, one of which was “A work ethic that prioritizes shared governance, integrity and transparency as core values that shape all campus processes and decision making.”
Cassidy Pollard, a student in the School of Integrative Studies, expressed concern over the use of the language in regard to a closed process for presidential selection. “If the search process doesn’t even meet your minimum requirements, I don’t get how we can expect a candidate for the next president to hold up to these core requirements,” Pollard stated.
“Define shared governance,” Davis responded, arguing that since Pollard was accusing the committee of “trampling over shared governance,” she should provide an explanation as to how.
Pollard then argued that “when your minimum requirements say shared governance and every faculty member that I’ve talked to has said that ‘we don’t feel that this is shared governance,’ you know, I might not be faculty, I may not be an expert on shared governance, but these professors are, and when they say this isn’t shared governance I’m going to defer to them”
According to Davis, there are three faculty members and one dean on the search committee for a new university president.
Bethany Letiecq, Mason’s AAUP chapter president, explained her frustrations with the search committee’s process.
“The [BOV] clearly doesn’t plan to uphold the [faculty handbook] here,” Letiecq said in an interview with Fourth Estate.
Mason’s faculty handbook is a document that provides guidelines for faculty relations at Mason. Within the faculty handbook, there are clear guidelines for how faculty should be involved in the selection process for Mason’s president.
The handbook states that “The Board of Visitors provides for participation on presidential search committees by faculty who are elected by the General Faculty. The search and selection process must include opportunities for the General Faculty to meet with candidates who are finalists for the presidency.”
“It’s not a legal obligation,” stated Rector Tom Davis of the BOV in regard to the language within the faculty handbook.
Letiecq, in an email to Fourth Estate, noted that there is “no statue in the Commonwealth that address[es] the issue of presidential searches, including how these are to be conducted. This is left to the [BOV].”
Letiecq believes that because the BOV approved the faculty handbook, it is binding to them as well.
She continued, “This language has been in the Faculty Handbook for many, many years — including during the last presidential search … Since then, the BOV has had approximately 8 years to amend the language and has not done so. Therefore, I would argue that the BOV recognized that a mistake was made during the last search and has tacitly agreed that the process described by the current language is what they have agreed to.”
AAUP Secretary and Associate Professor of Communication Tim Gibson said, “What I would like is to ask about an opportunity for the public to meet the candidates before anyone is hired. [What we do for any other high-level university employee] is have them come to campus, take questions in a public forum … take questions from stakeholders; that includes faculty and students … We do that because we get a good piece of information from that. We see how they interact with faculty and students … We see their ability to make connections in a very short time.”
“There’s one thing that’s overlooked, and what’s overlooked is the resentment of the closed process. I think Cabrera, I ended up liking him, but I resented him for a couple of years because of the way it was done … Take that into consideration — the risk this candidate will have in overcoming the resentment of the faculty, and probably the students too,” said Joe Scimecca, a sociology professor.
Junior dance major Amelia Stork also wants the presidential search to be an open process. “Part of picking a school is, like, you pick that schools value’s and you not only pick what you want your major to be but the environment you want to be [in], and I want a president who lines up with my values. If we just don’t meet them until they get hired, then that’s kind of [taking] away the whole point of a community,” she said.”
After Stork asked that the search committee find a president who would focus on making “the campus a safe place in terms of sexual assault and really follows through with that in their hiring of staff and faculty,” Mason’s Title IX office became a topic of discussion at the listening session.
“I know and have experienced so many people where this has been an issue on-campus [and] off-campus, trying to work with Title IX with faculty [and] with students, and I just felt it was really important and it needed to be prioritized because I think other things can be worked on but that needs to be someone’s … core value,” said Stork.
The faculty senate will vote on a resolution calling for the Board of Visitors to hold an open presidential search on Wednesday, Nov. 6.