Presidential search begins October 1

When Edna Szymanski introduced herself as president Thursday, she noted it was only “for 284 more days.”

At the monthly meeting between MSUM leadership and the faculty union, human resources officials offered the crowd of about 70 professors and administrators some of the first details about the search for her replacement. Szymanski’s last day is June 30.

Richard Hanson, president of Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College, will lead the search committee, which will have its first meeting Oct. 1 somewhere on campus. MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone will also be in town for the day. Unlike other MSUM employee searches, presidential searches are directed from the system office. The search committee’s goal will be to conduct airport interviews with candidates in December, before inviting several finalists to campus in January for further interviews, said interim chief human resource officer Donna Brown.

Per MnSCU policy, search committees evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of all the finalists, and then the chancellor recommends one candidate to the Board of Trustees.

Details about the committee’s composition and its process have yet to be announced. Brown and outgoing chief human resources officer Mark Yuran said at the meeting they had been instructed to keep that information confidential.

This prompted English professor Michael McCord to ask from the audience, “Is there a reason for that or does (the chancellor) just want to keep it a secret?”

Yuran responded: “We can’t speak as to what frame of mind he was in.”

MnSCU spokesman Doug Anderson declined to provide a reason for keeping the information closely held or release additional details, but said in an email that the search committee process is “on track.”

According the MnSCU policy on “Appointment of Presidents,” search “committee members shall be knowledgeable of the duties and responsibilities of the position to be filled and broadly representative of the interests of the administrators, faculty, staff, students, community and friends of the institution.” The policy has been unchanged since 1998, but MSUM officials said they expect this search to be different from previous ones because a new chancellor is in charge.

In the 2008 presidential search, the committee’s activities were quite secretive, with members prohibited from talking about who applied and the meetings closed to the public, said Ellen Brisch, an MSUM biology professor who served on the committee to find a replacement for former President Roland Barden. Only when the finalists came to campus, she said, did the public get brought into the process.

Brisch said her impression from the Thursday meeting was MSUM human resources were told to keep quiet simply because details had not yet been finalized.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a big secret,” she said.

But when it comes to selecting a search committee, Faculty Association president Ted Gracyk said, “I didn’t think it was possible to keep it a secret.”

Gracyk said he received an email from Hanson last Tuesday requesting he, within 24 hours, submit names of faculty nominees to fill two slots on the committee.

He said he responded that union policy requires he follow a process of seeking volunteers and having Faculty Senate, which meets Oct. 8, decide the two members — and that can’t be done in time for the first search committee meeting.

“We don’t regard lateness by MnSCU as an emergency on our part,” Gracyk said. “We’ll have our appointees in October.”

And rather than submitting a list of nominees and allowing the chancellor to make the final decision, he said the union will submit “two names, which are not nominees, but are our appointees.”

Other campus unions have already selected nominees, including MSUAASF (student affairs, admissions and registrar’s office employees), MAPE (professional employees) and AFSCME (clerical, maintenance and others). So has Student Senate, said president Kevin Struxness.

Local AFSCME president Dave Renecker, the MSUM locksmith, took issue with the chancellor’s role in committee selection.

“The part that concerns me is the chancellor is going to pick who is on the committee,” he said. “I wonder how in the world he will do that? He does not know us and putting the names in a hat and letting fate decide who will represent us is wrong.”

In an email Hanson, the search committee chairman, defended the process.

“There is nothing odd about the process of collecting names for the committee,” he wrote. “I took a day to get the letters ready and then the deadline was upon us …. the schedule got ahead of me. I am confident that we will be able to put together a good committee.

“As you know, we are at the very beginning of the process, and we will try to stay as close to the schedule as we can and still perform due diligence.”

BY BRYCE HAUGEN
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