A recent World-Herald editorial ("Hiring secrecy still a bad idea," Jan. 24) criticized legislation related to University of Nebraska presidential and chancellor searches as an attempt to shut the public out of the process. The editorial noted that the university belongs to the people of Nebraska, whose tax dollars help fund our activities.
That point is exactly right. The University of Nebraska exists to serve the people of the state. As such, the priorities of the Board of Regents are grounded in a fundamental goal to build the best possible university for Nebraskans.
When we consider what type of search process for university executives best serves the public interest, the answer is clear: A process that balances the public's right to know what their university is doing, with our ability to hire the most talented individuals we can to lead the institution.
Legislative Bill 1109, sponsored by Sen. John Murante and 11 co-authors, strikes that balance. The bill establishes a 30-day vetting period for single priority candidates for NU president and chancellor during which members of the public, university community and news media can meet the candidate, ask questions and offer input before any board action on his or her appointment.
Current Nebraska law has the effect of requiring us to publicly identify four finalists — a requirement that hamstrings us in an extraordinarily competitive national landscape in which many excellent candidates for senior leadership positions are unwilling to be "outed" as one of multiple public finalists because of the impact on their professional effectiveness. As external search firms have confirmed, sitting presidents and chancellors in particular — the type of experienced individuals any university would want in a candidate pool — are often unwilling to participate in a public search process.
LB1109 is good for the university. It puts our search process more in line with the national marketplace, including the Big Ten, most of whose institutions require only a single public finalist for university leadership roles.
It's good for the state. It puts us in the best position to attract top talent, something citizens rightfully expect of us.
And it's good for every Nebraskan who cares about the success of the university, who wants to see excellent leaders come here, and who wants to have a say in deciding what kinds of leaders the regents should be looking for.
Here's what LB1109 doesn't do: It doesn't eliminate the tremendously valuable role that faculty, staff and students, Nebraskans, and the news media have in actively participating in university leadership searches and vetting finalists. The 30-day vetting period established by the bill — during which the candidate's application materials would be made public and the candidate would host public forums — provides ample opportunity for stakeholders to weigh in.
And as we have done in the past, we will ask Nebraskans to provide feedback on priority candidates as well as on job descriptions. Consider our recent presidential search. We invited Nebraskans to tell us what qualities and experiences they were looking for in our next president, and what challenges and opportunities that person would face. We were pleased that more than 400 Nebraskans took the opportunity to share their thoughts — input that framed the development of a presidential profile.
The bill doesn't change university requirements to have search committees for executive positions that include representatives of a wide range of constituencies with whom the positions interact. In our presidential search, we appointed two search committees, comprising 34 people, which included faculty, staff, students, donors, representatives from business and agriculture, and others. The diverse backgrounds and perspectives of university stakeholders will continue to be a vital part of our process.
There is perhaps no more important responsibility for members of the Board of Regents, whom taxpayers elect to govern the university, than appointing the president and affirming the appointments of chancellors. These leaders set the tone for our university and are responsible for building on our impressive trajectory.
We have been fortunate to attract a number of outstanding leaders. But the higher education marketplace is becoming increasingly competitive. If we want to consistently attract a diverse and wide pool of applicants for senior leadership searches, we must have a process in place that does not discourage outstanding candidates from even being considered.
LB1109 establishes such a process. This legislation significantly improves the University of Nebraska's competitive position in the marketplace while not compromising the critical role our constituents play in helping us determine who should lead our institution. It's the right solution for Nebraska.