WVU-P president search discussed

PARKERSBURG – The West Virginia University at Parkersburg presidential search committee hopes to have the school’s next president selected in time for the start of the spring semester.

The WVU-P Board of Governors held a special meeting Tuesday to approve qualifications for the presidential candidates and discuss the search process with partners from North Carolina-based Hockaday-Hartford Consulting. The committee – which includes all 11 board members and seven others – then approved a timetable and discussed how soon the names of candidates should be revealed.

Ultimately, it was decided to narrow the field to three candidates to invite to campus for interviews with the board and various constituent groups between Nov. 15 and Dec. 8 and appoint a new president on Dec. 10.

The new president will replace Marie Foster Gnage, who resigned June 30 to become one of five regional presidents for Florida State College. Rhonda Tracy has been serving as interim president since July 1.

One of the first decisions the group had to make was whether to accept only candidates with doctorates or also consider those with master’s degrees.

Psychology Professor Matthew Santer, the faculty representative on the board, said the faculty would strongly support requiring a doctorate.

“I think we’re closing it off to a lot of candidates by not accepting master’s,” said Sam Winans, board secretary.

The board voted unanimously, with two members absent, to accept master’s degree holders but note that doctorates are preferred.

Board member Joe Campbell made the motion to bring three finalists to campus but to have one or two more in mind in case one of the original three backed out. The board agreed with that suggestion.

After the board meeting, the search committee met and agreed unanimously to use a timeline suggested by Hockaday-Hartford, in which the deadline for applications would be Sept. 26. Jeff Hockaday, senior partner with Hockaday-Hartford, said the consultants would actively recruit applicants.

Managing partner Jay Hartford said he anticipated 40-50 applicants. The consultants will do the initial screening to weed out people who do not meet the board’s qualifications, leaving somewhere between 20-30 candidates.

By Oct. 3, those candidates’ resumes and letters of intent will be posted on an encrypted website accessible only by committee members. On Oct. 8, the committee plans to meet and narrow down the list to a group of semi-finalists.

During the board meeting, Bruce Walker, general counsel for the Higher Education Policy Commission and the West Virginia Community and Technical College System, advised the board to keep the process confidential.

“A lot of these people don’t really want it known out there that they’re applying” for another job, he said.

Walker reminded the board that the search committee is a government body and, as such, is subject to open meeting laws. That means the candidates can be discussed in closed executive session, but no vote can be taken.

Walker said the group could come to a general agreement on who to select in the executive session without voting. In regular session, the board could vote to give the chairman the authority to invite a certain number of candidates for interviews.

During the committee meeting, Hockaday and Hartford said they have not had problems with people not wanting to apply for jobs because their names might be revealed.

“There might be one in 500 that it would matter to. But I’ve always said if you want this job, you should say so,” Hockaday said.

Board member Jamie Six said there are advantages to the names being known.

“You may have a bad apple apply,” he said. “They don’t want the people that know they’re a bad apple to know they applied.”

But West Virginia Secretary of Commerce Keith Burdette, a member of the search committee, said releasing the names too soon could restrict applicants and unfairly cast them in a bad light if they are screened out.

Burdette said he’s “for opening up the process” but didn’t want to do so prematurely.

“It is a personnel matter, and it has some protections,” he said.

Discussion of personnel is a legal reason to go into an executive session under West Virginia code. And while there are personnel exemptions under the state’s freedom of information policy, it is only allowed “if the public disclosure thereof would constitute an unreasonable invasion of privacy.”

The committee ultimately agreed to discuss and vote on the candidates in open session by number on Oct. 8 until the pool had been reduced to semifinalists. At that point, they will provide the names if requested.