Most chancellors in the UA system were chosen without an interview, including St. John
The University of Alabama system office confirmed that no candidates were interviewed for the position of UA system chancellor prior to the appointment of current chancellor Finis St. John.
The last three chancellors of the UA system were unanimously appointed by the board and no other candidates were interviewed during the recruitment process. UA System spokeswoman Lynn Cole confirmed a similar process for most chancellors before that.
The Chancellor reports directly to the UA System Board of Directors and is hired by the Board. The chancellor’s duties include implementing board policies, establishing financial procedures for the university, and working with the office of the governor and any state or federal agency as Section 5 of the UA system board manual.
“The Board of Directors leads the search process and identifies individuals who possess the attributes and qualifications necessary to perform the duties established by the Board and the Board’s Bylaws and Rules,” Cole said in a statement. “The Chancellor’s most recent research was consistent with this process.”
Frank LoMonte, director of the University of Florida’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information and former director of the Student Press Law Center, said a private search process without interviewing other candidates only serves board members. administration.
LoMonte said it was becoming increasingly common to conduct such searches “entirely behind closed doors,” which is a “terrible management practice, and certainly no way to run a government agency.”
“The conclusion, when you have a closed search, is that the only people who matter are the administrators and the administrators are still not representative of the general public. Administrators are still disproportionately wealthy businessmen. The choice will never be representative of all stakeholders in the campus community,” LoMonte said.
A common legal trend
Cole said the majority of the eight chancellor searches were conducted without interviews.
“When the Board conducts the search for the most senior leadership position in the UA System, the process is tailored to the strategic needs and priorities of our three campuses and the UAB Health System,” Cole said. “Due to the targeted nature of Chancellor searches, often only the final candidate is formally interviewed by the Council. This was the approach for most of our eight chancellor searches.
Cole said in an email in December that although the board “advertised the position online and considered several candidates,” there was no interview before St. John was nominated.
“Because the board made this decision unanimously, there was no need to conduct formal interviews with the other candidates under consideration,” Cole said. “This is not unusual for chancellor searches and is entirely at the discretion of the Council.”
LoMonte said this is a common legal trend.
“The law is usually not on the side of the public, and it’s only getting worse,” he said. “The general trend all across America is to conduct these executive searches behind closed doors. There are a small handful of states where the public is clearly allowed by law to see at least the finalists, but there is an ongoing battle to close the process even in those states. It is still the trustees and their private executive search firms that are pushing for less and less disclosure.
Alabama State Law
LoMonte said he believes Alabama state law does not lend itself to accessibility in executive searches.
“The law is so bad in most states, including Alabama, regarding access to anything that looks like a sensitive decision by executive staff,” he said. “There are broad exemptions in many states for executive staff decisions, so neither records nor meetings should be open to the public. It’s just a sad reality of law, that powerful people write these laws and they write them as they please.
Sid Trant, General Counsel for the UA System and Senior Vice Chancellor, requested a opinion in 2019 from the Alabama Attorney General’s office on whether the board has “exclusive authority” to appoint people to key administrative roles, including the president and chancellor. Attorney General Steve Marshall wrote that the board has that power.
LoMonte said the decision to seek legal advice “suggests there was at least some uncertainty as to the legality.”
The notice was given on March 20, 2019, less than a month before St. John’s appointment.
Chancellor St. John
St. John served on the board for 17 years before being chosen as the UA system’s acting chancellor in August 2018. The board removed the “acting” tag from St. John’s title and l was unanimously appointed Chancellor on April 12. 2019.
St. John’s Annual base salary is $730,361 and he can receive an annual performance bonus of $105,000. He also receives an annual car allowance of $12,000 and a monthly housing allowance of $6,250. Saint John has been paid on $1 million including car and housing allowances in 2021.
LoMonte said transitioning from a longtime board position directly to chancellor is a “very unusual path.”
“It’s not unheard of, but it’s definitely not the main method or the preferred method,” he said. “The downside risks are obvious. You risk having someone who is a political crony rather than someone who is the most qualified. Also, you’re not going to admit the possibility that an outsider with a broader perspective wants the job. When you make an insider pick without doing a nationwide search, you’re ruling out the possibility of introducing new thinking.
Chancellor Ray Hayes
Former UA System Chancellor Ray Hayes was also selected by unanimous decision of the board in 2015 without a search process. Hayes served three years as the UA system’s executive vice chancellor for finance and operations before becoming chancellor. Hayes’ salary was over $653,000, not including the annual performance bonus.
“I want to say it publicly,” former administrator John England Jr. said during a board meeting 2015 where Hayes was appointed. “I am aware, as others are aware, that we have received concerns from teachers about the possibility of having comments on the Chancellor. We had an outstanding candidate among us, so we didn’t have that national search, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t considered.
The Crimson White contacted 15 current and former members of the Faculty Senate. The majority did not respond, with one member declining a formal interview due to fears of retaliation from the University.
Chancellor Robert Witt
Former Chancellor Robert Witt was also unanimously appointed to replace Malcolm Portera on the board in 2012. Witt served as president of the University of Alabama for nine years before being named chancellor. No other candidates were considered for the position after board members approached Witt. Witt’s annual base salary was $660,000.
Cole said “several people” were considered in the search before St. John’s nomination. Cole did not share the identities of these individuals due to privacy concerns.
“The pool of individuals was a diverse group representing a wide range of professional backgrounds ranging from leading higher education institutions to government and business leaders,” she said.
UGA Chancellor Search
The University of Georgia has released its 2021 chancellor search with a website which included contact information for public comment, dates for listening sessions discussing the Chancellor’s search, and regular schedule updates.
“The Regents Search Advisory Group has scheduled listening sessions to receive feedback from students, faculty, staff and the public on its search for the next chancellor of the University System of Georgia,” a statement on the website reads.
UGA students protested the board’s consideration of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue as chancellor. Perdue was also the US Secretary of Agriculture under President Donald Trump. Current UGA Chancellor Steve Wrigley served as Georgia Governor Zell Miller’s chief of staff. Former chancellor Hank Huckaby was Zell’s budget director.
Students in the University of Georgia system launched a public campaign, Students Against Sonny, in an effort to delay Perdue’s nomination for chancellor. LoMonte said public access is why the council is pause the search.
LoMonte said that highlights the political nature of executive search decisions behind closed doors.
“It’s not at all uncommon for you to put people in the chancery because they know how to work at the highest levels of state government,” LoMonte said. “There’s nothing wrong with taking it into account, but when you do it secretly behind closed doors, there’s every risk that the job will be awarded to someone as part of a political agreement rather than on the merit basis.”
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