When universities conduct president searches in the dark, the results can be a disaster

From The Courier Journal

When Robert Sternberg was hired in 2013 as University of Wyoming’s 24th president, the state Senate president called him a “rock star.”

But he was selected without faculty or student input and was forced to resign 137 days later.

Sternberg, who had driven away deans and thrown the school into chaos, admitted the 131-year-old university in Laramie “might not be the best fit for me.” Wyoming’s board of trustees also acknowledged it had made a mistake and voted unanimously to conduct its next presidential search in the open.

After the University of Louisville's board announced it will try to find a replacement for ousted President James Ramsey through a search in which the names of finalists will be kept secret, the Courier-Journal examined other confidential quests. It found that while some have produced successful presidents, others were disastrous.

►At the University of Tulsa, for example, after a confidential search led by the same headhunter the University of Louisville hired, President Geoffrey Orsak was fired in 74 days.

►At Maryland’s public honors university, St. Mary’s College, President Joseph Urgo resigned two years after he was hired, as enrollment plummeted so drastically it put the school’s future in jeopardy.

►At the University of New Mexico, Washington banker John Elac – a friend of the school’s search consultant – quit on his second visit to campus, before his contract was even signed, when an enraged faculty challenged his credentials.

University search consultants, including Bill Funk, who the University of Louisville is paying up to $170,000 to find Ramsey’s successor, say private searches are essential to recruit respected sitting university presidents because none will throw their hat in the ring if they know they will be outed.

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