University of Louisville board chairman committed to 'closed' search for next president

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) --  The chairman of the University of Louisville board of trustees said the board is committed to conducting a “closed” search in which finalists for the next president of the university will not be made public -- over the objection of many faculty and staff members and students.

At the same time, J. David Grissom said there will be efforts to “bridge the differences” between the board and faculty members who want to meet with a handful of finalists during campus visits before the next president is named.

“While we have received substantial communications from the faculty in opposition to this process, we continue to believe this process will produce the best possible candidates,” Grissom said.

Grissom read the hand-written statement aloud at the close of a board meeting Monday, a few hours after the trustees got an earful from faculty leaders and even the university’s interim provost over the confidential search.

Susan Jarosi, a professor of women’s and gender studies and the co-chairwoman of a faculty’s search consultantion committee, said it’s common in academia for the campus community to meet and speak with a handful of finalists for a university’s top job.

But trustee Raymond Burse, a former president of Kentucky State University, said current university presidents will not apply for the U of L job “if their name is going to be plastered in the media.”

Grissom read the statement after the board spent about an hour behind closed doors discussing litigation and personnel matters unrelated to the debate over the presidential search, which happened earlier in the day.

During the earlier debate over the search, Grissom suggested going behind closed doors to try to resolve differences but quickly backed off after being informed there would be no legal basis for a closed discussion.

Grissom and university counsel Leslie Strohm insisted there was no discussion of the search controversy while the board was behind closed doors, which would likely have violated the Kentucky Open Meetings Act.

After the meeting, Grissom told reporters he fairly described the views of the board in his statement even though he drafted the statement with no input from the other 12 members.

“I think represented what the board’s view is, or somebody would have spoken up and said, ‘that’s not the way I feel about it,’” he said.

Earlier in the day, however, trustee Ronald Wright, a physician, said he agreed with the faculty and was “frankly disappointed” that the process has “been very closed off” so far.

The faculty, student and staff representatives on the board of trustees also relayed their constituents’ desire for a more open search.

U of L expects to name its next president in the spring or summer, with the person starting the job around the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2017 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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Chris Otts reports for WDRB.com about business and economic topics, higher education and local / state government. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after seven years with The Courier-Journal. Got a tip? Chris is at 502-585-0822 and cotts@wdrb.com.