Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Much Ado-doo at the U.

     Call me a pathologically cynical party poop, but I am very dubious about the University of Utah’s charming invitation for all of us to help in its search for a new president.
    The University launched a web site today, announcing what KTVX TV hails as a “new kind” of process in which input from the average citizen is solicited. That means y’all, you all!
    Please post your comments! They really want your help! Oh sure they do!

    I guess it’s kind of heartwarming that they want us to think they care about our opinions. Or is it just a bit of Machiavellian manipulation on their part?
    They want us to feel “a sense of ownership” toward the University. It’s ours -- how cool! They seek “to project an image of inclusiveness.” They want us to feel “invested,” and it’s easy to guess why, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer.
    The web site is a public-relations gimmick, plain and simple. As William Warren, the U.'s new quarter-million-dollar a year “brander-in-chief” said this morning on KCPW, “marketing and communications are increasingly converging.” In other words, it’s all about SELLING, even when it is camouflaged as outreach or as fact-based information.
    What is your opinion about the U.’s next president? How much weight do you think it would receive if you accepted the U.’s invitation to express it? Are you “sold” on the idea that you matter?
    It’s like when President Obama asked everyone to tweet him with their ideas about how to “tackle the whole deficit problem.” Get real, man!
    If you want to see your most ardent and well-conceived input go straight into a black hole, just send it via email to or attend one of 12 meetings scheduled in August and September to allow the University’s constituents to vent their feelings.
     The University doesn’t just need our help and the help of its 20-member search committee to find a new president. It is also “currently reviewing bids from several qualified and reputable search firms.”
    And that search firm will of course help our blue-ribbon search committee do all that SEARCHING. Lordy, this gets tiresome! And expensive -- I wonder how much these consultants charge.
    In the past five weeks, the Chronicle of Higher Education has posted 28 ads by universities that are searching for a new president. The print edition of the Chronicle is sent to 80,000 of the top university administrators in the country -- exactly the audience we need to reach in order to alert the right people that we have a job opening.
    But we’re too fancy for the classified ads, and we aren‘t among the listings.
    Since the University has been so gushingly proud of its visibility and prestige lately, does it really need to pay an outside company to solicit qualified candidates?
    Isn’t it likely that pretty much everyone in the top echelons of higher education is aware that Michael K. Young has left, and that the U. is looking for a new leader? And that we pay so well that the Chronicle of Higher Education ranked our compensation package as fifth in the nation?
    Wouldn’t a competent University search committee and some easily obtained publicity in higher-education media generate plenty of qualified applicants?
    Since the “University of Utah is on a remarkable upward trajectory, growing in both size and notoriety,” according to itself, do we really need national consultants to guide us through the process of finding and screening applicants? With all those thousands of employees up there on campus, is it possible that we lack the competence to do this ourselves?

     The University is already getting the word out  that the “ideal candidates must have broad administrative and management experience, a proven record of administrative and scholarly achievement in higher education, experience and success in fundraising, and leadership qualities essential for the administration of a large, culturally diverse, and complex academic and research institution. An earned doctoral degree is strongly preferred. Nominations and letters of application with complete resume, five references, and other supporting materials should be submitted to the Commissioner of Higher Education.”
    That seems pretty straightforward. And we wrote it all by ourselves, without a consultant (or did we?).
    But they forgot to mention that we need a FOOTBALL PRESIDENT to follow in Michael K. Young’s cleated footsteps.
    It does seem that these consulting outfits are called in all the time -- by the big boys who run corporations, institutions and agencies -- primarily to add prestige to the process at hand. The more the consultants charge, and the more Power Pointy and jargony they are, the more prestige they bestow.
    Since the Pac-12 has enabled us at last to be put “on the map,” maybe the coolest president ever will land us right in the center of the universe!