From the Rutgers Targum 2/8/02
By John Gillis
People familiar with
the 1990 search that produced Francis L. Lawrence as the
president of Rutgers have long been troubled by its flawed nature. Now
is time to
review what went wrong so that the flaws of 1990 will not be repeated.
around, it is essential that there be nothing second-rate or secretive
search process. We need a president who can put Rutgers back on track
becoming the premier public University in the eastern United States.
The 1990 search proceeded in two phases. A body of 20 faculty, deans,
and alumni was chosen by the Board of Governors and charged with seeking
qualified candidates and reviewing their applications. Nominations were
from all interested parties, but the search itself was conducted in great
Meetings with candidates were managed in such a way that the full search
committee never met Francis Lawrence.
Impressions of him had to be gotten second hand, a very questionable procedure.
Another irregularity occurred when the Board of Governors hired a headhunting
assist the search committee, a highly unusual practice that suggests that
organization cannot manage its own most important business. And there
the chance for potential conflict of interest if the hunting firm should
push for a
particular candidate on its own roster of clients.
In the end, the search committee was particularly impressed with three
adding Lawrence as a fourth, even though many on the committee ranked
his competitors. The four names were forwarded to the Board of Governors
Selection Committee that was constituted of 10 trustees and governors,
composed to avoid the strictures of the Open Public Meetings Act. Meeting
candidates in secret, it made the final decision. The rest is history.
What are the lessons that can be drawn from this search? In a decision
importance, enormous care must be taken to be sure that all interests
academic community are represented on the search committee. Nominations
search committee positions must come from constituted faculty and student
representative bodies. The search committee must agree at the outset to
consider candidates with genuinely distinguished qualifications. At all
universities, these include a superior academic record, the "ability"
to lead rather
than merely manage, and a record of exceptional public service. Nothing
less will do.
Using these criteria, the search committee must then solicit nominations
sectors of the University community.
It will seek out and encourage to apply the very best of those nominated.
Following the best practice of great public and private universities,
it will aim high and spread
its net wide for the best possible results.
The search must be conducted with as much openness as possible, for it
important that the candidates get to know Rutgers as it is for Rutgers
to get to know
them. This is the way faculty and decanal searches are always conducted.
for presidents should be no different. The whole search committee will
candidates. After painstaking and thoughtful deliberation, it will then
present a short
list to the Board of Governors.
There should be no rush to judgment. If no outstanding candidates turn
up in the first
round, the process will be continued until it meets its stated goal of
person of distinguished background, with the leadership capacity befitting
What can we as individual faculty and students do? We can demand that
representative bodies have an appropriate and active role in the selection
search committee. When solicited for our nominations, we can respond with
imagination and energy, giving the search committee the best and fullest
possible. We can monitor the search process, keeping it as open as possible
reminding all those involved of their responsibility to the community
at large. We can
demand that the committee and the Board produce a president worthy of
University, and settle for nothing less. We can welcome the next president
respected colleague, expecting in return the same kind of respect and
As a faculty member of 31 years standing, I offer these ideas in the unflagging
that, with the right leadership, Rutgers can reach its potential as the
University on the east coast and one of the great institutions of higher
America. I hope you will join me in this faith and support the effort
to make this
search a success.
John Gillis is a professor of history. He is also a University Senator.