The University of California recently began a months-long search for its new president, following current UC President Mark Yudof’s announcement that he will step down from his position in late August.
The presidential search process, established by a UC Board of Regents policy from 1996, is led by a special committee of regents that consults with four advisory committees: the academic, the student, the staff and the alumni advisory committees.
But several individuals within the University have expressed concerns regarding the process and are now asking for changes to allow their respective constituent groups to be more directly involved in the process – changes they said they hope will lay the groundwork for future searches.
The UC president is responsible for leading the 10-campus system and is held accountable to the 26-member Board of Regents.
As the role of the University president moves slowly toward less involvement with the campuses and more policy development and policy oversight, the challenges associated with finding a president to grasp the role have only increased, said Charles E. Young, former chancellor of UCLA.
To be successful, the president would need to have experience in managing an institution and a good track record of working with different constituent groups, Young said. At the same time, the president would need to work closely with state and national policymakers and advocate on behalf of the UC, he added.
The Special Committee to Consider the Selection of a President, appointed earlier this month, is comprised of 10 regents this year. The chair of the regents board, the state governor, the student regent and the alumni regent are always part of the special committee, according to the regents policy.
The academic advisory committee helps the special committee screen potential candidates, while the other three committees give general suggestions on the types of qualities they would like to see in the new president.
The special committee of regents can also consult broadly with chancellors, vice presidents and directors of UC laboratories to devise a search criteria for the position.
National executive search firm Isaacson, Miller will work with the regents committee this year to identify potential candidates for the position.
The regents on the special search committee and the current chair and vice chair of the UC Academic Senate, who are on the academic advisory committee, declined to comment for this story, many of them citing the confidentiality agreement that prohibits them from speaking publicly about the search process.
The agreement aims to prevent leaks to the general public about candidates who are being considered because candidates tend to be well-known in the academic community and could potentially lose their jobs, said Lynda Brewer, who served on the special committee during the search for then-UC President Robert Dynes’ successor in 2007.
Any individual within the UC can recommend candidates to the committee. Ultimately, however, it is up to the special committee to create a shortlist of potential candidates, to interview the candidates and to recommend a candidate to the Board of Regents. The special committee expects to present its candidate to the entire board in July, according to a press release from the UC Office of the President. The regents will then vote to either appoint or reject the recommended candidate.
Parting from precedence
Despite the lack of staff and faculty representation on the current special committee for selection of the president, there is a precedent for this type of representation.
During the 2002 search for a successor to then-UC President Richard Atkinson, then-chair of the UC Academic Senate Gayle Binion was appointed to the special committee as a faculty representative.
Binion said she could not vote for the nominee, since faculty representatives are non-voting members of the regents. But she took part in all of the special committee’s discussions about different candidates. She also sat in on candidate interviews and asked questions based on her perspective as a faculty member.
She said she was able to bring to light the faculty perspectives that might otherwise have been lost in the process.
Months after the next search process began in 2007, the special committee’s chair appointed one faculty and one staff adviser to the committee, along with the 11 regents who were already on the committee, said Kevin Smith, the current staff adviser to the regents.
Brewer, who was serving in a newly created position as staff adviser to the regents during the 2007 presidential search, and Michael Brown, chair of the UC Academic Senate at the time, had requested to be added to the special committee.
This year, however, neither a faculty representative nor a staff adviser was appointed to the special committee, which came as a surprise to many people, including Binion, Brewer and Smith.
Gerald Kominski, a health services professor and director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, said he has not been directly involved in a search process for UC president but has served on several committees to select deans at UCLA.
Given faculty and staff representation on the search committee during the last presidential search in the UC, both he and Smith said they feel there is ample precedent for having that kind of representation this year as well.
“The future of the University is too important to not have a voice on (the special committee) from everyone,” Kominski said.
Smith and Kathy Barton, the staff adviser-designate, recently met with Yudof and discussed the possibility of allowing a staff adviser to take a more direct role in the search process. But Smith said he does not think the staff adviser and faculty representative positions will be added to the search committee in time for the current search.
Yet based on some of the staff advisers’ initial advocacy efforts, he said he thinks there is “very good momentum” to have opportunity for the Board of Regents to be presented with a proposal to change the policy for future searches.
Young said he has followed several UC presidential searches closely and has sat on numerous committees to select administrators at the campus level.
“The criticism (of the process) has to do with more than who the person is,” Young said. “If you’re criticizing the process you’re not necessarily criticizing the choice.”
Members of different advisory committees have varying opinions on the accessibility to the special committee in the 2007 search process.
Brewer, who was the staff adviser on the special committee during the 2007 search, said she thinks the committee tried its best to listen to the different views of the advisory committees.
“From sitting in on (the special committee’s) meetings, my impression is that the committee considered (advisory committees) with a lot of respect, understanding that they were there to represent viewpoints of their constituents,” Brewer said.
Some members of the student advisory committee in the 2007 search process, however, did have concerns regarding the process.
Ben Shockey, a former member of graduate student government at UC Santa Barbara, served as a student representative to the student advisory committee in 2007.
The student advisory committee was scheduled to meet with the search committee only once, but got to meet with them two more times upon request.
Still, Shockey said the confidentiality agreements members of the special search committee had to sign limited the student advisory committee’s ability to actively participate in the search process because the student representatives did not know the status of the search and the types of candidates the regents had shortlisted.
Raquel Morales, the current chair of the student advisory committee and president of the UC Student Association, said she and other student leaders aim to communicate their perspectives to Student Regent Jonathan Stein while ensuring that the confidentiality agreement is not compromised, Morales said.
“I do have full faith in (Stein) that he will be able to voice the student perspective,” she said. “I would like to be (at the special committee’s meetings), but I’m not that worried because (Stein) will be there.”
Matthew Newsome, president of the UC San Diego Alumni Association and a member of the alumni advisory committee, also said he thinks his constituent group will adequately be represented in the search process. He said he has already reached out to alumni at UC San Diego to see if there is anything in particular they would like to see from the next UC president.
“The new president will need to understand that (the alumni constituency) is an incredibly powerful and often underutilized resource,” he said.
Changing the process
This time around, individuals from the UC have proposed several changes to the presidential selection process.
One suggestion is to amend the regents’ policy on the selection process to permanently add faculty and staff representative positions to the Special Committee to Consider the Selection of a President, Smith said.
Instead of changing the process to allow for wider involvement of different constituent groups, Shockey said he would like to see a system where there is more communication between the regents and the advisory groups. The regents would share their shortlist of candidates with the constituent groups and then ask for input on the candidates, Shockey said.
Another idea would be to model the presidential search after the process of selecting chancellors in the UC. During many chancellor selection processes, representatives from different constituent groups sat directly on a committee that advised the UC president, who then made a recommendation to the regents’ board for final approval.
Young would like to see a process in which campuses send representatives to create a search committee that would have some representatives from the Board of Regents and the current president, he said.
Binion, however, said she would be very surprised if the search committee was expanded or altered structurally.
Instead, she said she thinks it would help for members of the regents special committee to visit different campuses and meet with various constituent groups on their campuses to better understand their perspectives.
“A lot of issues may start out on the campus level but become relevant on the UC level,” she said. “It is important to learn about these issues when you have the opportunity to select the new UC president.”
Any structural changes to the search process need to be introduced to the Board of Regents by a regent and must be approved by the board’s governance committee to go into effect, Smith said.