Senate Roles in Administrator Searches: Survey Findings

Jane Patton, Educational Policies Committee

Given the fact that a third of California community colleges are looking at the departure of either a college president or district chancellor this spring, you may find this information timely. During the 2005-06 academic year, the Senate's Educational Policies Committee conducted a survey of local senates in response to resolution S05 3.02 asking about their policies and practices for conducting searches for presidents and chancellors.

This article will summarize some of the survey findings. The main purpose of the survey was to find out how faculty and senates are involved in senior administrative hiring and to identify some examples of good practices. While the findings are interesting, the Educational Policies Committee does not believe that this survey offers conclusive recommendations of good practices, so the Committee has agreed to continue the discussion of this topic at a breakout at the Spring 2007 Plenary Session and perhaps share additional advice later.

Thirty-two senate presidents responded to the survey. They represented a mixture of colleges from small, large, rural, urban multi and single-college districts. While the sampling was not large, from those who replied it was clear that the faculty are significantly involved in senior administrator searches.

The great majority of respondents (22) indicated their local senates have effective participation in creating the administrative position description, and 26 said that the names for the faculty serving on the hiring committee are forwarded through the local senate.

Eighteen colleges hold an open forum that allows faculty, staff, and students to question candidates, and several commented on the usefulness of such discussions.

To the question, "What was the role of outside consultant/s, if any, in the hiring process?" the answers were all over the map. In ten cases, consultants coordinated the efforts. In other cases they were a part of recruitment alone or only did background checks. One told about some good and bad experiences with consultants. "The helpful ones did not allow any names to go forward that were not recommended by the committee. They also helped recruit good candidates. The bad ones knew nothing about our process, gave wrong information and did not stand up for the integrity of the process when it was challenged/compromised." In only six cases were candidates encouraged to attend a meeting with the local senate.

Some of the more interesting answers came from the open-ended question about local processes, and given that this question gets to the heart of the resolution, most of the rest of the article will be devoted to these responses. The survey asked what models of good practices a college has utilized for the roles that faculty should play in searches for a local college president or chancellor. Some of the responses were as follows:

? At one college they hold "impressions meetings chaired by constituency leaders during which each finalist meets individually with the faculty, staff, and management constituencies for about 45 minutes per each group. The opportunity for each constituency group to dialogue with each candidate individually is very helpful and allows good insight about the candidates' differing qualifications, perspectives, and `fit.'" They also videotape the meetings so others can view them later.

  • At the public forum at one college, staff, faculty, and students write their reactions on different color-coded papers so readers knew who said what.
  • One respondent told about a less-than-ideal process: "once the committee's feedback was turned over to the board, the trustees then invited the entire campus (even those who had not attended open forums) to email their reactions or recommendations to the Board-in effect bypassing the recommendations and efforts of the committee."
  • Another "not best practice" occurred at a college that reported only one faculty representative was on the search committee.

One respondent summarized their local practice as follows: "Process worked best when (1) the screening committee was completely independent and self-contained; (2) no trustees were on the committee; (3) no one other than the committee had the right to review applications, decide who to interview, rank and score and send names forward; (4) no candidate could be interviewed at the next level who was not recommended by the committee; (5) only committee members could vote and recommend candidates; (6) finalists were reviewed at their current jobs by a site visitation team composed of three Trustees and two faculty, the Senate President and Union President; (7) finalists required to do a public presentation at the college (if a President) or the District (if a Chancellor). Other important aspects include wide-spread community and faculty/student/staff input into the job description before the process begins. We've done it with and without headhunters. Good headhunters are rare and helpful. Bad headhunters are worse than none."

At the end of the survey, respondents were asked to provide any additional comments; these included the following:

  • Two indicated that faculty or constituent group representatives were participants in the final level hiring/screening discussions with the chancellor.
  • At more than one college, administrators and trustees diminished the role or effectiveness of faculty participation by either discounting faculty comments or dismissing their participation by saying that faculty only provide input to the screening process and stressing that the hiring is done solely by the board.
  • One senate president pointed to the need to get local senates involved in the process more, while another said they were currently revisiting their policy to prevent in the future the near disaster that they had last time.

As suggested by the senate president in the bullet above, it would likely be prudent if the local processes for screening senior administrators are developed well in advance of the need and when there is not an additional burden of a deadline for applications.

As always, the more that faculty participate meaningfully in all phases of the hiring process, the more likely that faculty perspectives, concerns and opinions are incorporated into making the important choice of a senior administrator.

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