Presidential search committee’s privacy called into question


Kent State president-elect Bevely Warren holds up a Kent State pullover she received from the board of trustees, after she was announced as the university’s 12th president, Jan. 8, 2014.

Jimmy Miller

Details about Kent State’s presidential search — the identities of the finalists interviewed for the presidential position and methods of funding the search have remained unanswered as the university has declined to comment further about its presidential search process.

“There’s nothing secret about anything we did,” said Owen Lovejoy Professor Emeritus and member of the presidential search committee. “More than 50 percent of the candidates would not have applied for the job, maybe 75, had the search not been secret.”

Kent State has not responded to questions about how it properly spent $250,000 to fund the search, according to expense reports. Many search committee members who signed a confidentiality clause at the beginning of the search in August 2013 directed questions about the search process to Richard Marsh, Kent State Board of Trustees member and committee chair, who has directed all questions to Kent State’s legal department.  

Willis Walker, head of Kent State’s legal department, has declined to comment further about accusations from the Akron Beacon Journal that the university violated Ohio open records law.

Last month, the Beacon Journal reported that the university gave public records to Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates. The private search firm now decides what would be considered a public record, and Walker indicated some may be destroyed.

“Nothing required them to keep the records. It may be their practice to not keep records. It is probably their internal process to keep it as private as possible,” Walker told the ABJ.

Walker has declined to comment further on the quotes in the ABJ.

The office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine could not comment on Kent State’s presidential records citing it was against office policy and would be defined as giving legal advice.

Search committee silence

Three search committee members — music professor Thomas Janson, Faculty Senate Chair Paul Farrell and Lovejoy — agreed to speak on the record to the Stater to reveal details about the presidential search process and candidates the search committee considered.

However, even months after President-elect Beverly Warren was announced in January, it appears that many members of the committee still have no intention of opening up.

Susan Roxburgh, search committee member and sociology professor, declined to comment about the search.

Search committee members Michael Allen, Amish Patel, Joel Nielsen and Richard Coe directed all questions about the search to Marsh.

Marsh has also declined to comment and referred questions about the search to Kent State’s legal department. Kent State’s legal department has announced they are done talking about the search.

The committee was established last summer to review 30 to 40 candidates in an online database provided by search firm Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, Lovejoy and Janson said in separate interviews. The committee then narrowed down candidates. Janson said he believes 18 candidates were chosen from the database, while Lovejoy would not disclose how many finalists were selected from the online portal.

Lovejoy said committee members then interviewed candidates at the Intercontinental Hotel in Cleveland Nov. 19. Janson said they interviewed 18 candidates, while Lovejoy said they interviewed 12.

During its two-day hotel stay, the committee split into two groups and cycled through candidates. Each group switched rooms so that they could interview each candidate without having candidates come in and contact with one another.

Findings from these interviews were passed on to the board, which made the final decision on Kent State’s next chief.

Janson said after the interviews that the committee was ushered into a room to decide which candidates they would present to the board to interview.

“There was no time to really ponder it,” Janson said about making the decision.

It remains unclear how many candidates the search committee presented to the board to make the final decision. Janson said the committee submitted about 10 names.

Janson credited Warren with doing her research for the interview. He said she and knew each of the search committee members’ names and some basic background information about Kent State.

He also said the search firm had to sell Kent State to Warren, who wasn’t considering anything else other than continuing her work at Virginia Commonwealth University until she was contacted about the presidency role here. Warren said she had been contacted for other opportunities for presidency, but could not comment specifically on these offers.

He said he didn’t recall any opposition to hiring Warren from the committee.

Once the search committee presented the board with the names of the  finalists, the committee was no longer involved. Janson said he did not initially know his job ended Dec. 4 when the finalists were presented to the board.

The decision

The board approved the decision to name Warren Kent State’s 12th president at its meeting in Rockwell Hall Auditorium Jan. 8. Warren said she was a happy provost at VCU, but was “delighted to be coming here.”

“I wasn’t in searches,” Warren said. “I wasn’t seeking presidency. I think it was a very special opportunity.”

Warren was briefly introduced to the Faculty Senate’s Committee on Administrative Officers before she was announced as the university’s next president at 10 a.m. Jan. 8. The committee includes two deans and three faculty members not in the senate’s committee. Donald White, vice chair of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, said that those outside the search committee knew nothing about Warren.

The meeting was called by an “urgent” email from the university the evening before the announcement, White said. “[The board] took her away without even asking our opinion. The meeting with her was strictly a formality,” White said in an interview earlier this semester.

The senate passed a resolution calling upon the search committee and the board Nov. 4 to see a “short list of finalists” being considered for the presidential position. Marsh and search committee vice chair Dennis Eckert addressed the senate at its Sept. 9, 2013 meeting, where senate members  expressed their desire for a more active role in finding President Lestor Lefton’s replacement.

Paul Farrell, a member of the search committee but also the chair of the senate, said the board saw the resolution but did nothing with it.

“They said they received it,” Farrell said. “It was a board decision [to not make finalists public].”

Janson did not directly indicate which candidates the committee considered for the presidential position under the confidentiality clause; however, he said a person employed at Kent State and another former university employee were considered.

He said he wanted Robert Frank, former Kent State provost and current president of the University of New Mexico, to be considered for the position, but he was not involved. Janson could not comment on whether Provost Todd Diacon was among the candidates.

“I’m hoping Todd stays for provost,” Janson said. “Warren and Todd will form a dynamite pair.”

Lovejoy said the pool of candidates was diverse, but he could not disclose any more details about them except that “they were all outstanding.”

Janson said an African-American male from Los Angeles pulled out of the race early on, and three prominent female candidates were considered, although one declined to interview at last minute.

Other search committee members did not respond to phone calls and emails including professor of psychology Lee Fox-Cardamone; Susan Stocker, dean of Kent State’s Ashtabula campus; Deborah Spake, dean of the College of Business Administration; assistant to the president Ronald Fowler; Maria Schneider, president of the Kent State National Alumni Board of Directors and Jerry Sue Thornton, past president of Cuyahoga Community College.

“I’ve been on many search committees, but this is the best one I’ve been on,” Lovejoy said. “The committee was diverse, and all aspects of the university were represented…I’m quite sure it could not have been better.”

Contact Jimmy Miller at [email protected].