In vivid contrast to other public universities, the Southern University Board of Supervisors is seeking a new leader for its campuses statewide through an open and public process.
And a very quick process, too.
The search committee hopes to have recommendations for the system board next month. The search panel includes representatives from the board, faculty, students and alumni.
The group isn’t using an outside search firm, and all the applicants’ names will be public. That is a considerable contrast to LSU’s highly secretive process of selecting a new president in 2013.
If a new president is selected and presented to the board by Dec. 12, the target meeting date, that will be fast work. We do not doubt that there is skepticism about the Southern board, given the conflicts that have erupted among board members over the leadership of then-Chancellor Jim Llorens of the main campus and outgoing President Ron Mason.
The search committee is right, we think, to focus on the president’s job, leaving for the moment the other issues facing Southern’s leaders — principally, the possibility of combining the president’s job with that of the main campus’ chancellor, as LSU did.
We’re concerned that the Southern board’s speedy timetable for selecting a new president might not leave enough time for a thorough search that allows the university’s various stakeholders to fully participate in the process. If the board moves too quickly, the public might reasonably conclude that board members are simply fast-tracking a preselected appointee.
The board’s schedule is particularly ambitious considering the upcoming holiday season, a time when engaging the public becomes more challenging.
There are two great virtues of openness. One is the improved chances that the board and others involved in the search are acting in accordance with the financial and managerial responsibilities due to public institutions.
Another is to broaden the circle. The more that students and faculty and community leaders have the chance to interact with real choices for the president’s job, the more they are likely to be able to work enthusiastically with the eventual selection.
With the huge problems facing Southern’s very existence, openness in choosing a new president gives the leadership a leg up on dealing with future challenges. That assumes that the quality and depth of the search process matches the openness promised by Southern’s board and the search committee.
We believe in Southern’s future, but the reality is that the hard decisions that hurt Mason’s relationships with the board are not going away with a new hire. Getting this right is vital, and we are encouraged by the pledge by the search committee’s chairman, the Rev. Joe Gant, that the committee will not rush the job, even as it tries to move quickly.