COLUMBUS — Ohio State University’s presidential search committee intends to keep the names of job finalists concealed until they have a single, final candidate, the committee chair said.
Remarks about keeping finalists secret came over the past two weeks from search committee chair and Ohio State trustee Lewis Von Thaer, during public forums about the presidential search. He also said the search committee would talk to candidates “very quietly.”
Ohio State announced details about the search earlier this year, following President Michael V. Drake’s retirement announcement in November. The initial timeline outlined in OSU’s agreement with search firm Isaacson, Miller calls for applicant screening in March, interviews in April, and an offer to the top candidate by May, with a July start date.
At one forum Wednesday, Dr. Claire Verschraegen, division director for medical oncology at Ohio State’s College of Medicine, asked whether the visions of the top two or three finalists could be circulated to faculty, or whether the faculty senate might have an opportunity to talk to the candidates.
“We will probably not do that,” Von Thaer said.
He said it was “a very legitimate question and we understand the desire,” for faculty involvement, but emphasized the search has to foster a “safe environment.”
“Academic environments are not the best places in the world to keep a secret,” he added. “If the names start to leak out, we will have a blown search. And then … we will struggle collecting candidates and we will struggle, I think, to fill this job with somebody of the caliber that we’re looking for.”
At another forum earlier this month, an audience member asked about opportunities for the broader university community to engage with potential presidents when the search comes down to the finalists.
Von Thaer said then that likely wouldn’t happen, explaining that candidates don’t want their employer to know they’re looking for a new job, especially if they’re not chosen in the end.
“We don’t want the candidates’ names showing up in The Dispatch,” he said. “That would not be helpful in attracting the talent the university really deserves.”
Secretive searches are becoming more common, said John McNay, president of the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors. “But we think it’s a terrible development,” he said.
University boards have adopted a more corporate style of management favoring private searches, McNay said, but as public institutions, “we’re not corporations, we’re not producing widgets. We’re trying to educate students.”
He added, “As public institutions, they ought to be more open with the important decisions that they make.”
Von Thaer, who is also CEO of Battelle, likened the search to one in the private sector.
“If I would have thought my current employer might have gotten wind that I was looking at that job and considering it seriously, I would have withdrawn from that opportunity, and I think we would see that in a lot of the best candidates here as well,” Von Thaer said.
The idea that revealing eligible finalists would result in a “blown” search is “baloney,” said Cleveland attorney and public records expert David Marburger.
“That has a lot of superficial appeal, but it is a false narrative,” said Marburger, who previously worked on behalf of the Plain Dealer for the release of resumes of Cleveland police chief candidates. The Ohio Supreme Court ultimately granted the request to release the resumes.
McNay agreed that secretive searches don’t inherently yield better candidates.
Some may think candidates could worry their current positions might become untenable if it they are discovered pursuing another job, he said.
“But if they’re really valued at their institution, this should not hurt them,” McNay said. “And if they’re not very valued at their institution, then why would we hire them?”