The current search for a new executive vice chancellor at the Kansas University Medical Center highlights the checkered record of KU search processes.
Some have been good, very good, some so-so and, unfortunately, some not so good or really poor. Take your pick.
The KU Medical Center process follows the KU pattern of identifying individuals who have been selected as finalists. This means anyone interested in a senior position at KU must be willing to publicly identify himself or herself. This tells his or her current employer he or she is looking for a job and is not particularly satisfied with their position, status or happiness at their current place of employment.
Even before the actual public search gets under way and before the personal interviews and phone calls, there is another critically important part of the KU search process. This is the selection of the search team. Here, again, KU’s record is mixed: some good, some not so good.
Granted, there is a great difference between the school’s athletic department and its academic side, but how many times when searching for a new coach does the athletic department or the university require that anyone interested and selected as a finalist be identified? How many candidates would this kind of policy eliminate? Most all.
It is likely those appointed to an academic search committee are presented the rules of the game. They don’t have much autonomy, but who hands down the rules? Does someone else decide whether they must hire a search firm, or are they allowed to conduct the search however they wish? Who selects the search committee? The composition of the committee is the most important factor in the entire effort. What are the most important qualifications of candidates in the eyes of those on the committee?
The selections or nominations of some past search committee members should cause those interested in building the excellence of the university to wonder what guidelines are used to narrow the field of candidates for open KU positions.
Too many times, it seems as if, at the final stage of the selection process, members of the search committee come to the conclusion, “we really don’t have anyone who stands out” or they say, “I guess so-and-so is the best of the three but let’s go with Joe or Jane or Mary,” whomever is the strongest among the weak. Why not start another search?
At what point should the Kansas Board of Regents become involved? These nine men and women have the responsibility of overseeing the university, and certainly the excellence and caliber of those selected as deans or senior administrators play a significant role in whether the university excels or spins its wheels.
Getting back to the medical center search, the first search committee is reported to have been unanimous in its choice of an individual already on the staff to assume the executive vice chancellor’s job. For one reason or another, this recommendation was turned back by the chancellor.
Does this mean the chancellor believed the individual favored by the search team didn’t measure up or were there other reasons?
Is it possible, because of the lingering debris within the school based on the acrimony among KUMC staff under the leadership — actually lack of leadership — by the recently departed executive vice chancellor, Barbara Atkinson, that the chancellor or others thought it better to start with a clean, untarnished outsider rather than to hand over the reins to an individual from within when hard feelings remain among some of the staff?
The first candidate interviewed this past Thursday is from the state of Washington. He has an excellent background. KUMC officials have said finalists will include “outside” as well as “inside” candidates. Is the “inside” candidate first recommended by the search committee among the finalists?
Once again, finalists in this search process have to agree to have their names made public, thereby signaling to their current employers they are looking for a job. This, in turn, tells the current employers they are making a mistake if they count on that person to be a long-term associate, particularly if that person is talented and an attractive candidate for other jobs. If he or she is not a star, it’s likely the employers will be happy to see him or her go and may go so far as to give the individual high and grand-sounding recommendations.
Filling vacancies is terribly important. In fact, it is one of the most important steps for any university with a genuine desire and commitment to become an even finer school.
With the tenure situation, when an opening occurs is the best opportunity to improve the academic level of the institution. In regard to those in administrative positions, regents must have the courage and backbone to step in and call for a replacement.
There are other factors in the selection of a dean or administrator, and the ability to attract good or exceptional candidates. Does the open position and the university itself offer the opportunity for advancement in academic/research recognition along with a substantial improvement financially? Is the environment of the school one of enthusiasm, excitement and vision or one of merely muddling along?
What is the image of KU and the KU Medical Center in the eyes of prospective teachers, researchers, deans and administrators?
The KU Medical Center has the opportunity and potential to soar in every positive category, but it must have strong leadership. With visionary, respected leadership, there is the opportunity for KUMC to have a stronger, positive relationship with KU Hospital, one of the nation’s top teaching hospitals.
Consider the benefits and potential of such an association.