Semester ends, no candidates announced

Madeleine Winer

In 2006, when anyone asked Timothy Chandler how the search for the next Kent State president was going, his response was the same: “Things have been going fine.”

“I’m told we will have an announcement as soon as possible,’ ” Chandler, then the dean of the College of Fine and Professional Arts, would say. Chandler said he was instructed to say nothing about the search process as to not jeopardize any candidates or the search firm in the process.

In May of that year, after combing through applications for eight months, the 17-member selection committee named Lester Lefton as the only candidate it would recommend for president. The news led to disappointment among some faculty and members of the university community with the lack of openness and their involvement in the search.

As Kent State’s presidential search committee now seeks Lefton’s replacement, some fear the committee will announce a sole finalist. When Faculty Senate met with search committee chair Richard Marsh in September, Marsh hinted the committee might only name one candidate, said philosophy associate professor Deborah Smith.

The following month, the senate presented a resolution that called for multiple finalists to meet with the senate.

“When you get the three finalists, that’s when they’ve already been here a couple of times and its probably no secret to their institution that they’re looking,” Smith, member of the senate, said. “It’s probably time for the faculty and the rest of the university community to have some sort of input before the trustees make their decision. That’s what the majority of faculty senate is saying.”

Marsh has declined all media interviews until there is something to report.

Announcing Lefton

In announcing Lefton as the sole finalist in 2006, some believe the committee disobeyed university policy. According to the university’s policy register, which governs the procedures for selection administration positions, the search committee should have produced “no fewer than three and no more than five acceptable candidates for the position.”

However, Chandler said three candidates, including Lefton, were brought to campus. Chandler thinks the private search consultant, Jerry Baker of Baker Parker Global Executive Search, told the other two finalists they were not “the best fit” for Kent State.

“Rather than telling people ‘you came second, and you came third,’ it makes more sense to them to say that, if you wish to withdraw, it looks less damaging,” Chandler said. “It looks like you are more in control of your destiny than we are.”

John West, another member of the search committee and then-vice president of research, said the committee’s mission did not include communication with the community about where the search committee was in the process.

“It wasn’t our role,” said West, who also participated in the search to find Provost Robert Frank in 2007. “There’s a certain amount of trust that goes into members of the committee. Communication with the outside community wasn’t our role. It was to review and make recommendations.”

Patrick Mullin, vice chair of the committee at the time, said he did not remember anything about the search’s privacy but said Lefton was the clear choice to lead the university.

“By far, he was the best candidate,” Mullin said in a phone interview. “He came extremely prepared. He had done his homework, and he presented to us a detailed strategic plan that he did on his own in terms of where he would take the university.”

Sandra Harbrecht, chair of the presidential search committee that found Lefton, declined to comment on the present search in order to “not impede on anything that was going on.”

Chandler said the private search firm built the pool of applicants the for the committee to review, which consisted of 40 to 50 applications. Then the committee deliberated and made a short list of at least 10 candidates for off-campus interviews, he said.

“We called them airport interviews because they were conducted in a day,” Chandler said.

The third round of interviews brought in three finalists and was conducted on campus. When Lefton’s name leaked to student media, The Daily Kent Stater reported he had participated in an open search for the top job at the College of William and Mary in Virginia just a year earlier.

In an interview after the Board of Trustees meeting on Dec. 4, Lefton said he was more “vulnerable” when he applied at William and Mary because his contract was set to expire at Tulane. Lefton also said he would never have considered the Kent State job if it had required an open search because Kent State wasn’t as prestigious at the time.

“William and Mary was ranked number 38 in the county and, being rejected at William and Mary, that was no dishonor,” Lefton said. “Then, Kent State wasn’t even a top 200 school, and, being rejected and not getting the job at a place that wasn’t even a first-tier school it’s like: ‘Oh, I couldn’t even get a job at a place that isn’t even ranked.’”

Have have things changed?

West, the former vice president of research, said he does not see much difference from the Lefton’s search process to the current one.

“I knew it would go through a quiet phase when the committee was looking at candidates,” West said. “Once you get to the end, the meetings did get more frequent. It was best to keep the momentum going once you got down to interviews and got down to a final conclusion.”

The search committee has hosted three meetings within the last month. University spokesman Eric Mansfield said the committee is scheduled to have another meeting next week if it can be scheduled around the members’ finals week schedules.

When finding Lefton, the committee also spent a lot of time on campus dialogues, West said. According to the Daily Kent Stater archives, the search committee hosted a total of 15 open forums at both the Kent and regional campuses to gather input on what the university community wanted to see in its next president.

The current presidential search committee has hosted two forums, both on Aug. 20, before students arrived on campus. Members of the committee met with 11 other campus groups.

“When you get the three finalists, that’s when they’ve already been here a couple of times and its probably no secret to their institution that they’re looking,” said Deborah Smith, member of the senate. “It’s probably time for the faculty the rest of the university community have some sort of input before the trustees make their decision. That’s what the majority of faculty senate is saying.”

West said that during the previous search, the committee “took it really seriously to hear the concerns of community and get their input.” He added that he was unsure if the current search committee did the same.

“Because this is not 15 years later, I don’t think there is a need to do fact finding that was done before,” West said.

West said that person might be named soon if the search process is similar to the last.

“They’ve got to be at the stage where they get down to candidates, and they want to interview them,” he said. “Either before or after the holidays. My guess is that they’re going to make a decision early in the new year. They’ll want to wrap that up. They want to move along with the process.”

Contact Madeleine Winer at [email protected].