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Retirement, resignation of UW System chancellors will test new hiring policies

Current Search and Screen Committees are 50 percent UW System Board of Regents, compared to the previous policy of having a majority of faculty from the university in question. This is the first time the Regents will put the new policy to the test.

Image By: Max Homstad

Following the resignation and retirement of two UW System chancellors in the past four months, the Board of Regents will soon have two chancellor searches underway. 

For the first time, they will test out the controversial hiring process changes first put in place between 2015 and 2017. 

UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer announced Monday he will be retiring in August. This makes him the second chancellor the UW System will need to find a replacement for after former UW-Whitewater Chancellor Beverly Kopper resigned following allegations of sexual harassment against her husband. 

The last time the System selected a new chancellor was Kopper in July of 2015, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. At the time of her appointment, the UW System had just created new rules for Search and Screen Committees a month earlier, UW-Milwaukee associate professor Nicholas Fleisher said on Twitter

The 2017 policy change for hiring UW System leadership most notably expanded the candidate pool to allow applicants from the private sector, making it possible for a hiring committee to select an individual without experience working in education, according to a UW System press release

Before the new policy was enacted, there were no regulations on whether a UW System chancellor needed an academic background. At UW-Madison, candidates had to be tenurable, which meant they needed a PhD, according to Tom Broman, a member of the Steering Committee for PROFS, a UW-Madison faculty advocacy organization. 

By creating this new hiring policy, the Board of Regents was attempting to develop a System-wide rule affecting UW-Madison, Broman said.

“In essence, by introducing this policy, the Regents were trying to force Madison to change the way it did stuff,” he said.

The idea that someone with no educational experience could become chancellor gave some faculty members and organizations pause, including PROFS — which opposed the new policy — according to Broman. 

“It doesn’t make sense to have somebody who has never worked in higher ed come in to try to run the organization, just as a major company wouldn’t bring in a professor to come in and run the company,” Jack O’Meara, a lobbyist for PROFS, said at the time of the policy change. “They would want somebody who understands how that company works and can effectively lead the organization.”

Broman, on the other hand, said an applicant’s background isn’t quite as telling. 

“Not having a PhD is neither a guarantee of success or a guarantee of failure,” he said. “The more important criterion is whether the person coming in understands what universities are, and by that measure, a person with a PhD is more likely to know something about that.”

The UW System chose to make this change in order to “streamline” the hiring process of university leadership and produce more fruitful results, according to the press release. 

“The average amount of time to hire a new chancellor from the announcement of their resignation or retirement to naming a replacement is about nine months,” Regent Vice President Drew Petersen said in the release. “That is simply too long as we want our campuses to continue to run smoothly during this type of transition.”

Along with the change to candidate requirements, 2017 brought a change to the Search and Screen Committee. Before fall 2015, the Board of Regents mandated the Search and Screen Committee to have a faculty majority from the institution in question, the policy said

Two years later, the Regents reduced the number of committee members to 10 — five Regents, two faculty members, one staff representative from the university, one student, and one community and/or alumni member, according to the current Board of Regents policy.

“The changes are problematic because they take the search and screen process out of the hands of the people who are on campus and in the community, and who know the needs of the institution: faculty, staff, students, and community members,” Fleisher said in an email. 

Broman echoed Fleisher’s sentiments. He said the local parties present in the hiring process are a very mixed group, and the policy change diminished their voices. 

However, Broman said the situation wasn’t as dire as others made it sound. 

“You don't need a PhD to be a good leader of a university,” he said. “A good leader of any organization is someone who has an idea and can get other people to go along with it, that's what successful leadership is.”

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