May 28, 2023

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Risky Hiring Practices

Those who want Kansas University to move upward in national rankings in teaching and research probably were stunned several weeks ago by a suggestion that a radical change be made in how to fill two important positions at the University.

The interim provost suggested, or asked, faculty members to consider the possibility of merely adding another three years to the current arrangement for interim Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences rather than to launch a search and recruit effort for leadership of the University’s largest school.

Also, the interim provost suggested faculty members consider delaying the search for a permanent provost until sometime later this year. And, maybe then there will be another extension of the provost’s interim designation or perhaps a decision to forgo any search efforts for either position and make interim or acting titles permanent.

The two individuals serving in these senior and important positions may be the best possible and highly qualified persons to carry out the responsibilities of a dean and provost. However, shouldn’t those with the responsibility of making sure KU has sought out and recruited the very best and most talented individuals to occupy these two important positions decide how vacancies are to be filled?

This is not the time to take care of friends, play the political correctness game or settle for the easiest, most comfortable and cheapest way to fill vacant interim or full time employment slots.

If KU is to get back in the game of trying to be one of the nation’s truly top state-aided universities, there must be a change in the overall search and recruitment process for every position on the campus. Settling for the quickest and most comfortable route in filling vacancies, and/or dismissing those who fail to measure up, is the surest way to settle for mediocrity.

The idea of giving a three-year extension to the acting dean of the college, rather than initiating a nationwide search for a replacement is merely kicking the can down Jayhawk Boulevard. Such a search effort would provide a good yardstick to measure the level of excellence of the current interim dean and in turn make a decision to keep him as dean or make a replacement.

The same reasoning should apply to the provost situation.

In recent years the provost has overseen the entire “inside” operation of the University. The chancellor served as the outside voice and leadership of the school. The excellence, vision, courage and leadership abilities to inspire all are essential in the provost’s office, as well as the chancellor’s, if the University is to excel.

Deans and faculty must have leaders who inspire and who are able to generate enthusiasm and excitement about the school and its goals for advancing excellence.

Unfortunately, there is too much dissension on Mt. Oread today and the idea of bypassing the normal or traditional search and selection process for the dean of the college and provost adds heat to a smoldering fire.

What message does the idea of possibly changing the procedures to fill vacancies send to faculty and students? Shouldn’t the regents get involved in this situation? Could it be that for some reason KU leaders do not think now is the best time for the University to be looking for senior faculty/administrative leaders?

KU enjoys a proud history and there is every reason to believe it can continue to be a true leader among state-aided institutions. Some will suggest “rankings” are overrated and really don’t mean too much, however, the public, taxpayers, parents, state legislators, prospective students, high school counselors and major fiscal donors do look at rankings.

Unfortunately, in recent years KU has dropped in some overall national academic rankings and it is vital when important positions open up on the campus every effort is made to seek out the best individuals for these positions.

KU deserves the best and should seek the best.