The search is still underway for Ithaca College’s next president. And this is nearly the extent of what the campus community knows, which is surprising considering the expectation was to have had candidates arrive on campus by this time.
The process of narrowing down candidates is understandably complex: accommodating the schedules and needs of many high-profile applicants, respecting their privacy. Currently, the college has said the search is open, meaning the final candidates will visit campus publicly, eventually. For the sake of those candidates who might be particularly concerned about their home institutions’ finding out about their candidacy through this public exposure, it might be tempting for the college to engage instead in a closed search, in which all of the proceedings, including selection, are kept private.
The Ithacan, along with the Student Governance Council and numerous members of the faculty, staff and student body, agree that it is in the best interests of the college’s future and well-being that the presidential search remain open.
Open searches allow for transparency during the process, as candidates vying for the position are given the opportunity to interact with members of the campus community and learn more about the college than can be garnered from meeting with the presidential search committee. And given last year’s wave of community activism and greater demand for transparency from the upper echelons of the administration, allowing the campus to have a voice in choosing the college’s next president is necessary to repair some of the wounds.
There is reason to be concerned that a possible reason for the delay — the committee announced it would have candidates visit during the fall — is that the committee is having difficulty identifying qualified candidates. Whatever the true situation is, the committee needs to be transparent and communicate to the community as soon as possible a clear update on what is happening.
It may be true that conducting an open search could potentially discourage some very qualified candidates from applying. But the college needs to prioritize transparency of the process — allowing the community to have input — and find the qualified candidates who will participate in an open search.
Just because it is now the trend in higher education for colleges to conduct closed presidential searches, it does not mean this college should fall in line. After the events of last fall, the administration’s and board of trustees’ relationship with the community would suffer beyond repair if transparency does not remain a priority. The next president of this college should not be chosen without meaningful community input, as it is imperative for the college’s future to have a leader who understands and is committed to their community.