Confidential Searches for Chief Academic Officers

This is a guest post by Joerg Tiede, a contributor to the recent November-December issue of Academe. Tiede is professor of computer science at Illinois Wesleyan University. He serves as chair of the AAUP’s Assembly of State Conferences, on Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, and as chair of the Committee on the History of the Association. He is the editor of the forthcoming 2015 edition of the AAUP Redbook.

In the current issue of Academe, my colleague Mike Theune and I report on a survey that we conducted among nationally-ranked liberal arts colleges in order to obtain information about the prevalence of confidential searches for chief academic officers (CAOs). Our interest in this topic arose out of a search for a provost at our own institution, during which a search consultant suggested that we consider conducting the search without an open final phase. The consultant cited an “emerging trend” of conducting searches without announcing finalists to the entire campus or providing opportunities for faculty and staff to interact with them in open forums.

Since that time, a statement by the Committee on College and University Governance has been released which provides further guidance, noting in particular that

Searches 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.

Our main finding is that the responses provided no evidence that confidentiality is widely employed in such searches. Eighty-nine percent of respondents indicated that the final phase of their most recent search for a CAO was open. We did find that the use of formal confidentiality agreements in searches was higher in institutions that used a search firm versus those that did not (30% vs 8%). Thus, it is worth asking whether any “emerging trend” is one of the consultants’ making.

Incidentally, an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education provided an opportunity for a wider discussion of this issue in response to our presentation of these results at this year’s Annual Conference on the State of Higher Education.

Note: A fuller discussion of this topic may be found in the November-December issue of Academe in “Confidential Searches for Chief Academic Officers,” an essay by Michael Theune and Hans-Joerg Tiede.

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