What board of a major company would select a new executive without having the final slate of candidates visit the site? And what finalist for a top job at a major company would not want to visit the site?
A visit is essential to get a sense of the culture of the place, to see if the job and candidate really do match.
Tell that to the governing board of the California State University system, which is about to select a new president for Fresno State University. With the CSU board expected to pick the new president at its May 21-22 meeting in Long Beach, the public has yet to see an announcement of the finalists and a schedule of campus visits.
Ditto for the ongoing Cal State Los Angeles presidential search.
That's because the CSU board in September 2011 decided to eliminate the requirement for a campus visit. The driving force behind this change was then-Chancellor Charlie Reed, one of his parting salvos.
But CSU has a new chancellor, Timothy White, and he should signal that the campus visit is important both for the board and the finalists. CSU should announce the finalists for the Fresno State presidency and a schedule of their campus visits. It needs to do the same for the CSU Los Angeles search. Nothing in the new policy prevents a campus visit, but the CSU should change its policy to restore the campus visit as a requirement.
The old policy stated that the purpose of the campus visit was to "encourage candidates to remain interested in pursuing the presidency by engaging in ideas with campus constituent groups and through promotions of the campus and the community." The idea was that a visit "generates a foundation for the new president's success on campus."
That remains valid today.
The justification for secrecy is flimsy, at best. The special committee that recommended eliminating campus visits in 2011 claimed that "highly qualified candidates are sometimes lost" if they would have to do a public campus visit. The requirement might hinder the board's ability to "build a broad pool."
We are doubtful. Even a cursory look at university presidential searches nationwide shows that while the initial screening and interviews are confidential, finalists expect to be announced and expect a public campus visit.
Universities from Illinois to Texas to New York celebrate the campus visit. Typical announcements include the following:
"We are fortunate to have attracted such a remarkable group of finalists, and we look forward to their upcoming campus visits with enthusiasm" (Vermont).
"We fully expect that the statewide community will question the finalists and research their backgrounds. We are confident that the discussions will be open and candid" (New Mexico).
"We hope many students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the public, will attend the forums and provide comments on the finalists. We look forward to hearing from the community and getting as much input as we can on this important decision" (Iowa).
Doesn't the CSU board want to see how finalists engage with the campus and public? Don't finalists want to see if the campus is a good fit for them?
Chancellor White and the CSU board should return the campus visit to the presidential selection process.
The Bee's past stands
"In both searches, while initial screening and interviews must be confidential, finalists should be publicly announced. Finalists also should have a schedule of public visits, so the board and public can see how they interact with faculty, staff, students, alumni, state political leaders and civic and business leaders. By holding open visits with finalists and offering frugal salary packages, California's key institutions of higher education can build public trust instead of undermining it with secrecy and excess."
June 3, 2012