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Search for New Kansas Chancellor may be Closed to Public

LAWRENCE, Kan. ― The Kansas Board of Regents hasn’t approved how the process to replace University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little will proceed, but the search may be closed to the public.

Gray-Little, chancellor of the university since 2009, announced last week she’s stepping down in the summer of 2017.

Gray-Little was hired after a closed search, and the Regents are also conducting a closed search for the next president of Kansas State University. President Kirk Schulz left Kansas State earlier this year to become president of Washington State University.

A closed process means the public doesn’t learn about the candidates vying for a position. Instead, they’re told only who was selected after that person has been hired.

Part of the reasoning for the private process is that candidates qualified to lead a large research institution like the University of Kansas likely hold leadership positions at other universities, and word that they’re looking elsewhere could negatively affect them professionally or prevent them from applying altogether.

“A lot of people think that that’s because we want to keep it secret,” Regent Bill Feuerborn told The Lawrence Journal-World. “You just have so many more applicants. … You want to get the best possible people for the job.”

Jonathan Peters, University of Kansas assistant professor of journalism, said the process should be more open.

“The search for a public university president should not resemble the papal conclave,” said Peters, who specializes in the First Amendment. “I think that before someone is given a half-million-dollar paycheck at a public institution, its major stakeholders and the public at large should be able to know whether the best candidate has been chosen and whether the process has been fair. It’s not possible to know those things in a closed search.”

The Kansas Board of Regents has completed two other presidential searches at smaller schools in the past four years that were more transparent. In 2014, the Regents appointed Mirta Martin president of Fort Hays State University. She was among five finalists who visited the campus and interacted with students and employees before the decision was made, Board of Regents spokeswoman Breeze Richardson said.

The Regents announced in late 2015 that Allison Garrett would be Emporia State University’s next president. Garrett was one of two finalists who visited the campus, Richardson said. In both cases, finalists’ names were announced the day before their visits, Richardson said.

Richardson said such jobs are competitive, and finalists often are candidates for other jobs at the same time.

“You get to this point in the process where you’re really vulnerable for someone leaving your search because they’ve been offered another job,” Richardson said.

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