Controversy continues in search for president

Fresno State faculty and students appear to be no closer to getting information about the presidential search committee than during the open forum in February.

According to a Fresno Bee article published Wednesday, there has been progress in the search, but it is still being conducted behind a veil of mystery.   

In the article it was reported that the field of 64 candidates has been whittled down to a final four.  According to a California State University (CSU) memorandum included in the article, a meeting will occur today at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. During that meeting the committee will consider which candidates will advance to the next level in the job search.

Lisa Weston, the English department chair, shared her frustration with the process in a conversation on the eve of the tightly guarded meeting.

“If you’re going to do it in a hotel, bring on the hookers and the booze,” Weston said. “Bad visuals. It looks sleazy.  It looks like they are trying to keep this as far from the campus as possible.  Legitimate business meetings should happen at your place of business.”

The concerns about a lack of transparency raised in the Feb. 12 forum covered by The Collegian still hold true for Weston today. She spoke then about her concerns and said she is still frustrated that faculty hasn’t been allowed to be more involved.

“It’s not a kind of egotism,” Weston said. “Faculty do contribute to this university. It’s not just insulting to have someone say you don’t need to know who is going to be our boss, the lack of consultation sets up a bad atmosphere for how we are supposed to interact with this person.”

She said that finding voices of support amongst faculty for the search committee’s process might be difficult.

“I wouldn’t even know where to begin to look to find a faculty member who thinks it’s a good idea,” Weston said.

After the February forum, Pete Mehas, a CSU Board of Trustees member, said the closed consultation practices of the committee reflect its concern for the careers of potential candidates.  The thought is the candidates could lose their jobs if their current employers found out they were considering a career change.

Associated Students Inc. president Arthur Montejano, who is on the committee to provide a student perspective and advocate for student needs, said that the issue of secrecy has been overplayed.

“I think it’s a little more of a storyline than it is secrecy,” Montejano said.  “It’s not that irregular. Maybe in the final stages of searches for other divisions the candidates might be invited to campus or something—like a director position or something. In the Bee, they quoted Dr. Mehas as saying that they hadn’t ruled it out. I think it has gained more press than is warranted. It’s pretty standard procedure actually for personnel positions.”

Montejano added that it’s a new world compared to when presidents were selected 25 or 50 years ago.  He said that people have to be guarded today about what information is available about them in the job market.

“You have to remember that these candidates aren’t just candidates,” Montejano said.  “They’re people too. They have a livelihood somewhere else that they have to protect. They have to protect their family as well, and for them to be open and publically courting something, who knows what the repercussions for them would be. I think that we have to take it with a little bit more human perspective. We’re talking about people’s lives also.”

ASI president-elect Moses Menchaca said that from the perspective of a student and also someone who will be working with the new president, he understands both sides.

“I can see it from both perspectives,” Menchaca said.  “There is a level of privacy expected and I understand why people would want more information.  But I know there are policies in place and other universities have followed these new procedures.”

The option to keep the process a secret was not available to Fresno State when President John Welty was hired about 22 years ago.  Before 2011, the process was open to the public, but that policy was changed in September of that year when the CSU Board of Trustees echoed the argument made by Mehas, that is secrecy created a better pool of candidates.

It’s a theory that doesn’t fly with Weston, who believes that when it comes to an open hiring process what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

“If it is good enough for the faculty, the same process should be good enough for an administrator,” Weston said. “Especially for a president, who from time to time will have to be in awkward situations.”

Weston said that sometimes faculty are employed at another university when they put themselves into the job market, but their interest in other opportunities are not necessarily kept a secret.

“These people came onto campus and they met with faculty they would be working with and students they would be teaching,” Weston said. “They actually got to see the community and campus and see if they would be a fit.”

In terms of finding the right fit, Montejano said his input on behalf of students has been heard.

“It’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me,” Montejano said.  “I feel that my voice has been heard, validated and taken into consideration throughout the entire process.”

He said that students have shared with him their hopes for what the new president will prioritize.

“They want to know that the person is going to be accessible to students and that they’re going to have a degree orientation, in terms of being able to really make sure that that’s their priority—the quality in terms of the degree,” Montejano said.

In the end whoever is selected will have to learn to work with the university staff and handle the concerns of the students.  It’s something Menchaca said he will focus on what he can control.

“Regardless of who is elected I look forward to working with them,” Menchaca said.  “By bringing in a new ASI president and a new school president around the same time, it will really help us make a new start.”