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Closed University Presidential Searches: Controversial But Not Uncommon

The Hannah Administration building at Michigan State University.
WKAR Photo
Hannah Administration Building on the Michigan State University campus.

Having a closed presidential search like the one Michigan State University is using is part of a growing trend, according to a journalist who reports on college presidents.

Reaction continues to pour in after Michigan State University’s presidential co-chairs stated the search for the next president will be confidential. That means no town halls or public interviews before the choice is announced. 

In a campus-wide email, MSU presidential search co-chairs Dianne Byrum and Melanie Foster wrote having a confidential search will draw the strongest pool of candidates.

Jack Stripling covers college presidents for The Chronicle of Higher Education

“They feel like they will deter strong candidates if the search is open because people will jeopardize their current positions," said Stripling. 

Stripling said the closed vetting process echoes the policy of search firms, which are playing more of a role in helping universities find new presidents. But it comes at a cost to students and faculty who want to be involved.

“Obviously, it’s not a process that people are going to view as transparent. It’s a closed process," said Stripling.

The group ReclaimMSU criticized the decision to have a private presidential search. The organization, made up of MSU faculty and students, formed in the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal and investigation. 

According to the Record-Courier newspaper, Ohio State, Kent State, and Cleveland State Universities all kept their recent presidential searches confidential. 

Editor's note: Dr. Prabu David, dean of MSU's College of Communications Arts & Sciences is on the MSU presidential search committee. WKAR public media is part of the college. The MSU Board of Trustees holds the license to WKAR radio and television.

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