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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Guest Column: Trustees fully committed to student involvement in search for new president

Editor’s Note: This guest column from Sue Sharpe, Western trustee and chair of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee, is in response to a recent Western Front story.

The recent Western Front article headlined “What’s next, what to expect in process to choose next university president” raised questions about the involvement and role of students in the Western presidential search process.

As a trustee and chair of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee, this creates a great opportunity to reinforce our commitment to engaging the entire campus community in this important decision and to clarify what to expect going forward. Students have been front and center in that commitment from day one.

The search process started the day Western President Bruce Shepard announced his retirement last June. When forming the PSAC, the Board of Trustees called for the search to be transparent, inclusive, and to engage the entire campus community in identifying the future needs of the university and the desired characteristics of the next president. So what does that look like at Western?

We initially proposed appointing two student representatives to the PSAC at our August Board of Trustees meeting. The Associated Students president requested, and faculty strongly supported, that there be three student members. The trustees agreed.

To clarify, the PSAC has a total of 15 members: three faculty, three students, three trustees, one classified and one professional staff representative, two community members, one academic administrator and the chair of the Board of Trustees, ex officio. With the exception of the community members and the academic administrator, all campus appointments were vetted and nominated by their respective governance bodies. The AS nominated its representatives last October after recruiting applications from the entire student body. After review of those applications, the AS forwarded its nominations and we appointed the top three candidates proposed.  Your student colleagues have served your interests, and those of the university, extremely well since day one.  

All members of the PSAC participate fully in the process and have devoted nights and weekends working with their colleagues to develop the presidential profile for recruiting candidates, reviewing all 70 plus applications, identifying candidates for initial interviews, and will soon be conducting those interviews, participating in reference checks and making the recommendation of finalists to the Board of Trustees in March.  

Students and other campus communities were given a number of options for input into what they would like to see in the next president. Three open-forum sessions for students were scheduled on campus to share input with the PSAC and the search consultant. Some forums were lightly attended and the search consultant said that was a common experience across the country. We heavily promoted an online survey to collect the same type of input, which was extremely successful.  Our online response was one of the strongest the search consultant has seen in a national presidential search and our largest on-campus response was from students.

We are asked frequently whether the trustees will decide on an open or confidential interview process for the final candidates. Many sitting presidents are unwilling to submit to public interviews for fear of losing their present position.  Our goal is to be as transparent as possible, while ensuring that Western finds the best president. The PSAC, which represents all campus stakeholders, will be evaluating this question and sharing their thoughts with the trustees when they make their recommendations.  

All information including the progress of the search can be found on the Presidential Search website. Please check it frequently. We will actively communicate with campus during each step in the process. The trustees deeply value the interest on campus and are confident the PSAC will identify the best possible candidates to consider for Western’s 14th president.

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