As the University of Michigan undergoes its search for a new University President — a role that has wide-sweeping implications for campus — community members tell The Daily they anticipate a transparent search process.
On Feb. 8, University Regents Sarah Hubbard (R) and Denise Ilitch (D) emailed the campus community to announce their position as co-chairs of the new Presidential Search Committee, consisting of various campus community members tasked in recruiting and examining candidates for the next University President.
Public Health senior Nithya Arun, Central Student Government President, said that although CSG is not represented on the Presidential Search Committee, she was happy with the student representation. Arun also said that also wished there was more representation from the Flint and Dearborn satellite campuses in the selection committee.
“I’m really excited to see that we have an undergraduate as well as a graduate student,” Arun said. “Some not so great things are that it doesn’t include students from Flint or Dearborn. The President is supposed to not only represent University of Michigan, Ann Arbor students, but also our sister schools.”
In an email to The Michigan Daily, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote that the Board of Regents chose members of the committee who were representative of the University of Michigan community, including all three campuses and Michigan Medicine.
“Members of the Board of Regents consulted broadly with university leaders to gather recommendations and vet candidates that reflected the breadth of the university,” Fitzgerald wrote. “The committee also is representative of the broad ethnic and racial diversity of the three campus communities.”
The announcement of the committee comes less than a month after former University President Mark Schlissel’s termination due to an inappropriate workplace relationship with a subordinate.
Schlissel’s appointment in 2014 came after an over $315,000 presidential search that spanned over eight months. In an interview with The Daily in January, Schlissel said he spent six months following the announcement of his appointment being brought “up to speed” with previous University President Mary Sue Coleman and had hoped for the same process with his predecessor.
Lecturers’ Employee Organization (LEO) President Kirsten Herold, Public Health lecturer, said she received a call from the University Secretary Sally Churchill inviting her to join the Presidential Search Committee about 10 days before it was announced to the campus community. Herold also shared that she and other members of LEO were proud to be represented on the committee.
“People feel like LEO has really come a long way in terms of actually having a seat at the table and being a partner,” Herold said. “I feel that way myself. Twenty years ago, there’s no way this would have been possible. A lot has happened. It’s a positive sign of the influence of LEO on campus and labor has more broadly.”
Rackham student Amir Fleischmann, contracts committee co-chair of the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO), said while he was happy to see representation for the LEO, he was unhappy with the graduate student representation on the Presidential Search Committee.
“My understanding is that the only grad student who’s on there is not a GEO member, which is just really a slap in the face to the over 1,000 grad students who are a part of GEO,” Fleischmann said. “Our organization speaks on behalf of graduate workers at the University of Michigan. So, to me it seems like they almost went out of their way to exclude us by picking a grad student who isn’t a member.”
The Board of Regents announced President Emerita Mary Sue Coleman would return to serve as Interim President while the board searches for a permanent replacement for Schlissel. Fitzgerald clarified the terms of Coleman’s contract in an email to The Daily.
“(Coleman) has agreed to serve for six months or until a new president begins his or her service as president,” Fitzgerald wrote.
He added that Coleman is being paid at an annual rate of $927,000, the same salary that was being paid to former President Mark Schlissel. At the time of Coleman’s retirement in 2014, she was earning $603,000 per year as University President, but had declined an increase in her salary for several years in a row.
Following the six months of her term as Interim President, Coleman will remain at the University for two months as a special advisor to aid in the transition of the next president, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Arun said that CSG hopes for a president that fosters connections between the University and the broader Ann Arbor and Washtenaw county communities.
“I think something that should also be considered is their relationship to the broader Ann Arbor and Washtenaw Community area,” Arun said. “Just because we are a part of this (community) and we are sharing this space with people who belong to this community. I think it’s really important to have strong partnerships, and the president should be charged with fostering those connections.”
Arun said she has faith in the committee to make a decision that will be fair and beneficial to students, and faculty and staff, across all three campuses.
Information senior Huda Shulaiba, the undergraduate student representative on the Presidential Search Committee, said she believed she was nominated to be on the committee because of her involvement in Student Life. Shulaiba is on the Student Advisory Board for Vice President Martino Harmon and is also an employee for MDining Catering.
“It’s important that we find someone who not only drives the University forward but also acknowledges and addresses past issues rather than sweeping them under the rug,” Shulaiba said. “I hope we’re able to find someone who values equity, is responsive to staff and student feedback and is willing and able to deal with problems in a timely and transparent manner.”
Herold said that while there are positive implications of being involved in the Presidential Search Committee, she is concerned about meeting the high expectations of the campus community.
“What’s daunting, and I think frankly terrifying, for me personally about being on this committee is that we are really being asked to find the perfect human being,” Herold said. “And does that person exist? Well, we hopefully can find someone who comes awfully close, right?
Fleischmann also shared his frustration about the lack of transparency in selecting committee members, which he said does not set a great example in how the presidential search will go.
“It’s a total mystery how they came up with these members of the search committee, and that really speaks to a lack of transparency in this process,” Fleischmann said. “If even setting up the committee is not a transparent process, that has pretense poorly for the overall search process being transparent and democratic.”
Fleischmann said that GEO hopes for a new president as soon as possible, though they think the University should be making a “real change” with the new hire.
“Schlissel was fired and putting it on this inappropriate relationship that he had with his subordinate kind of allows the regents to wash their hands of very serious institutional problems that conspired,” Fleischmann said. “It’s doing a disservice to the survivors of Dr. Anderson, for example, and the survivors of Martin Philbert to pretend that Schlissel was the only cause of the culture of sexual misconduct that exists within the University administration.”
The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and the Flint and Ann Arbor chapters of American Association of University Professors (AAUP) sent a letter to the Presidential Search Committee, which was obtained by The Daily, emphasizing that they believe the presidential search should be a public and transparent process.
“We believe that the search for the next president should be conducted in as consultative and open a fashion as possible, so as to maximize the chances of finding a leader who is good for all university stakeholders of our Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses,” the letter reads.
The letter urges the committee to release the names of the candidates once three to five finalists have been identified, citing that a key benefit of a “public search” is that any concerns with prior histories will likely be revealed earlier in the process before a president is selected. The letter also references Schlissel’s indifference to sexual assault as a Provost at Brown, which came to light following his appointment as U-M President.
“To search finalists: We cordially invite you to demonstrate your leadership by requesting a public process,” the letter reads. “Keeping the process confidential telegraphs a poor message to the campus community, whereas participation in a public process would demonstrate the intention to develop a more transparent and participatory culture.”
According to Herold, members of the Presidential Search Committee signed a confidentiality agreement that restricted information they could share with the campus community. Herold declined to answer questions from The Daily concerning the process of hiring a new president. Both Herold and Shulaib declined to comment on the timeline of the presidential search.
Fitzgerald told The Daily in an email that the Presidential Search Committee and the Board of Regents are moving forward expeditiously.
“Following this month’s listening sessions, the committee will focus on developing a job description, which should be released in the spring,” Fitzgerald wrote. “The Board of Regents, which is responsible for selecting university presidents according to the state constitution, hopes to make a decision by the summer of 2022.”
Both Herold and Shulaiba encouraged the campus community to attend the Presidential Search Committee’s virtual listening sessions or fill out the community survey.
Daily Staff Reporter Anna Fifelski can be reached at email@example.com.