Interviews have begun at Kansas University for a new dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Four candidates have been selected as finalists, or at least semifinalists, out of an unknown number of applicants. At least one of those interviewed has expressed some concern about interviewing for this job before a new university provost has been selected.
However, he said university officials, in an apparent attempt to ease his concerns or at least get him to buy into KU's plan, had assured him that if he is selected as the College dean, he would have a role in selecting the new provost.
Again, it seems KU officials are going about this process in a backward manner. They are selecting a new dean before naming a new provost, the second most powerful individual on the campus and the person in charge of KU's academic program.
As noted in a previous Saturday Column, this seems like trying to put together a football coaching staff by hiring the assistants first and then going about finding and hiring a head coach.
If a College dean is selected before interviews begin for the new provost, and if the College dean does, indeed, play a significant role selecting the provost, is there concern the provost may have a special appreciation for the dean's actions and perhaps demonstrate his gratitude in future favorable actions concerning the dean or the College?
What kind of applicant for College dean or the dean of the schools of law or social welfare would want to stake his or her academic career on a university job without having any idea who his or her boss will be?
The provost should be hired first. What is the rush to select a dean, particularly ahead of finding a provost? It is understood KU faculty members have been encouraged to attend various public forums with the "parade of candidates" for the College deanship and tell members of the selection committee their thoughts and preferences on the candidates.
They hope to have this completed by next week, apparently with the idea of making an offer by late December or early January.
The five yardsticks to measure the candidates are: 1. leadership, 2. administrative experience, 3. ability to work with people, 4. overall commitment to excellence in teaching and research and 5. understanding of various constituencies within the College.
Some say the rush is on because university officials do not want to operate any longer than necessary with an interim dean. If there should be an extended delay, they might not be able to have a new dean in Strong Hall by the start of the 2006 fall semester.
If - and this is a terribly important "if" - there is a true all-star among the current finalists, it would be wise to move ahead with reasonable speed, but if there are questions or if no one stands out, it would seem far better to start over again and seek the very best.
Chancellor Robert Hemenway did this shortly after he arrived from Kentucky to become KU's chancellor. There was a vacancy in the executive vice chancellor's position at the KU Medical Center and Hemenway was shown the list of finalists for the job. The new chancellor did not think the person recommended by the selection committee measured up to the job and told the committee to start over again.
A university doesn't get many chances to select five very important, senior members of the academic community at almost the same time. If university administrators are genuinely interested in seizing this opportunity to make a powerful statement about moving KU to a higher level of academic excellence, every effort should be made to recruit the very best individuals for these posts. Now isn't the time to compromise and have a race against the clock. Why should this search process be finalized by next week unless officials are sure they have tried to interest the best people from the country's major, nationally recognized universities? Or are there other reasons for the emergency-like approach?
The KU plan to hire deans for the College, the School of Law and the School of Social Welfare and a new director of libraries when those people have absolutely no idea who will move into the provost's office seems to work against bringing the best possible administrators to KU. Likewise, would one of the nation's foremost candidates for the provost's position be enthused about being saddled with four top administrators for whom he or she might have little academic admiration or respect? Why apply for a job when your hands are tied relative to a number of top positions?
KU has a rare opportunity. It is hoped university officials will take the time to make sure they find the very best individuals available. Otherwise, they will be shortchanging the university, its faculty and students and the state of Kansas for years to come.