Confidentiality Considered Key In Chancellor Search

Interim Chancellor J. Keith Motley

Interim Chancellor J. Keith Motley

Gintautas Dumcius

Confidentiality in the process and the UMass presidential search earlier this year loomed large as the search committee geared up for a national search for a new UMass Boston chancellor.

“If there’s a breach of confidentiality, it really has a tendency to make some of the better candidates to flee the process rather than being attracted to the process, and that’s the only concern,” said James Karam, chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees and president of the First Bristol Corporation, after the committee’s first meeting.

The 19-member search committee met this week for the first time, kicking off its quest to permanently replace Chancellor Jo Ann Gora, who left in August for the presidency at Ball State University. Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs J. Keith Motley, widely considered to be a candidate for the position, was appointed on the interim in July.

“I think it was a terrific start,” said President Jack M. Wilson. “People are ready to work.”

Confidentiality will be key to drawing candidates, say search committee members. Members, several of whom are veterans of the UMass presidential search earlier this year, told the rest of the committee of how one candidate had threatened to sue over confidentiality issues, while another from a Midwestern university withdrew entirely.

“I thought the presidential search, for the most part, went very well,” Karam said. “There was one slip-up when someone called an associate to ask if they knew one person, and that got back to that one person and they decided to withdraw. But it was only one person.”

As in the presidential search, the chancellor search committee members have been asked to sign a confidentiality pledge. “Every effort should be made by the committee to protect that confidentiality,” Terrence P. O’Malley, a university lawyer, told the committee.

But members appear to be striving for as open a process as possible.Stacey Rainey, UMass trustee and chair of the committee, said a full day of meetings on campus is planned for later this month, and she will be sending out a letter to 600 community leaders and supporters of the university in search of their input. Rainey, a former deputy chief of staff to ex-Gov. Jane Swift, will also be meeting with members of the state Legislature and hold informal discussions with the other campus chancellors.

Rainey, who called it a “very serious search,” said she hopes to be holding interviews in February, have a list of recommended candidates by April, and have President Wilson make an appointment to be voted on by the Board of Trustees in May.

While time is at the forefront, “We’re not going to sacrifice quality for time,” Karam said. “Quality will ultimately be what we’re looking for.”

The committee is currently in its “dream phase,” said Wilson, looking for a candidate who is Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King, Jr. combined.

“That’s a good thing,” he said, adding that later in the process more realistic expectations can be set.

“I will always be available as a resource along the way,” Wilson said.

Wilson encouraged search committee members to use their own contacts and to track down people they know and get them interested in the position. “This is not a process of putting an ad in the paper and people responding,” Karam said.

Internal candidates can expect the same “rigorous” process, according to Rainey.

No restrictions remain on Motley if he were to put his name in the running. “I made no restrictions at the time I appointed Keith Motley as interim chancellor,” Wilson said. “It’s entirely up to him.” It is up to the search committee to decide if Motley is appropriate candidate, Wilson added.

Rainey also announced Shelly Weiss Storbeck from the Virginia-based search consulting firm A. T. Kearney will be assisting the search committee. Storbeck has helped with over 300 public and private searches, including at the University of Michigan, Rice University, and Lewis and Clark College, where Chancellor Gora was a candidate before withdrawing at the last minute in April.

Rainey noted that Gora, who had an at-times rocky tenure while at UMass, will get calls from people interested in the position. “It’s a small universe and people will want to know what she thinks,” Storbeck said.