Although even finalists of the Ohio State presidential search are set to be kept a secret until the president is selected, some OSU students contend there should be more of an emphasis placed on gathering input from the community about specific candidates before a selection is made.
Some of OSU’s most influential figures, though, insist it is imperative contenders be kept confidential.
OSU President Emeritus E. Gordon Gee, who was president of OSU from 1990 to 1998 and again from 2007 until July 1, said it was a private search that brought him to OSU for both of his terms.
“My view is very clear on this. I would not be a president of this institution if they would have had a public search, both the first time or the second time,” Gee said in an interview with The Lantern Oct. 21. “The reason is the fact that the very best people you want to get here are very happy where they are, and they don’t want to be put into public jeopardy, and therefore what we have to do is we have to have confidence in our search.”
Gee announced he would be retiring from the presidency June 4, days after controversial comments he made at a Dec. 5 OSU Athletic Council meeting came under public scrutiny. Remarks about Notre Dame and the Southeastern Conference in particular drew national attention.
Presidential Search Committee advisory subcommittee convener Deborah Jones Merritt said there will be public updates from Presidential Search Committee Chair Jeffrey Wadsworth at every Board of Trustees meeting about where the process stands at the time.
Undergraduate Student Government President Taylor Stepp, who is a member of the advisory subcommittee, said he could not comment on his thoughts about the candidate confidentiality because all comments are to be referred to Wadsworth or Merritt.
Some OSU students said they see both pros and cons to the public not knowing who the candidates are.
“I see good things and bad things from it. Bad things where having a more transparent election would be better for the community, not only the students but the faculty and other people who are alumni … They’d like to see who they’re actually possibly going to have as a president,” said Michael Hlatky, a second-year in chemical engineering. “But also the good things as in … it kind of keeps those candidates a little more comfortable and they’re not going to be hounded by multiple different people about (their consideration).”
Hlatky said overall, he’d prefer the search to be completely public.
“It should be more open because I think as a community, we’d love to see who it’s possibly going to be so you can do some background information on them, see what they’ve done in the past, see what they could offer the university,” he said.
Aaron Rumbaugh, a third-year in landscape architecture, said he understands that candidates don’t want the public to know they’re trying for the job.
“I wouldn’t want to lose my job if I wanted to get a new job, a better job,” he said. “I wouldn’t want them knowing.”
Others, though, said that risk shouldn’t matter.
“It should still be known by the students,” said Emily Yu, a fourth-year in industrial and systems engineering. “If they are good at what they are doing, they shouldn’t be worried about losing their job.”
She added that students should have a say in who is chosen.
“The person is supposed to … work for the students or make the organization better for the whole population of the students,” she said. “We should determine who the president is.”
OSU Interim President Joseph Alutto, who took the reins the same day Gee retired, felt similarly to Gee with regard to public versus private searches.
“I’ve been offered a number of presidencies in my time, and it started quite a while ago. So, if I go back 10 years to the first time somebody approached me about presidency, it was sort of an open search … and I candidly said it was an interesting opportunity but I was not going to go through the normal popularity contest because that’s, to me, not a good way to select a leader,” Alutto said in an interview with The Lantern Sept. 23. “It’s too difficult for someone who is in a sitting position. And that’s (where) you look — you know, this is not a place where a neophyte should become president. This is a very complicated university.”
Alutto also said, though, there are still specific qualifications necessary for any certain leader to be considered for OSU’s presidency.
“We’re going to look for people who have evidence that they can succeed, who can lead effectively a complex organization. Well, they’re already in positions,” he said. “The last thing they need to do is to have people realize they’re looking at something as attractive as Ohio State. Because if they are not selected, they are done where they are.
“Once you’ve lost the sense of commitment to the institution … it’s tough to lead those institutions … And I know it’s difficult for students and for many faculty to accept as a reality, but it is a reality.”
Provost and Executive Vice President Joseph Steinmetz, too, said the only reason he’s at OSU is because of a confidential search process.
“I understand that process because that’s exactly the process that got me to Ohio State,” he said in an interview with The Lantern Oct. 8. “I’m sitting at the University of Kansas at the time, the last thing I wanted my colleagues at Kansas to know is that I might be looking at a job elsewhere because it undermines the total confidence that the other place that you’re coming from has in you.”
Gee said he trusts that whatever decision is made will be the right one.
“I have great confidence in our trustees. They did appoint me so I think they know how to do things pretty well,” he said with a laugh.
Alutto said he, too, trusts the Presidential Search Committee to do its job well.
“I play no role in the search. And I shouldn’t play any role in the search, just as Gordon (Gee) shouldn’t play any role in the search in terms of determining the outcome,” he said. “If someone calls us and asks for information, that’s fine, all that needs to be coordinated through the search committee.”
So far, the committee has been working on completing its tasks — the finalized presidential profile, an eight-page document which describes the qualities of the ideal next president meant to be sent to potential candidates, was released Oct. 2. The document is set to be formally approved by the Board at its Nov. 7 and 8 meeting.
The Presidential Search Committee’s advisory subcommittee also expected to be finished with the university portrait, a 30 to 40 page document intended to be a recruitment tool to inform candidates of OSU’s attractive qualities, by the end of October or the first week of November as of Oct. 17, OSU spokesman Gary Lewis said in an email.
OSU also hired a private search firm, Dallas-based R. William Funk & Associates, to assist with recruiting the next president. The contract between the two is worth more than $220,000.
Wadsworth said July 19 the process is expected to take about 300 days based on how long searches take at other universities considering outside candidates, meaning there could be approximately 200 days remaining in the search.
Gee said after all, the search isn’t one that lends itself easily to a democratic vote.
“This is not about a plebiscite, this is about finding the very best person,” Gee said. “You don’t do that through a public process. That is kind of like a fashion show or something. We just don’t want to make that happen.”