The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Letter to the Editor: Mistakes in Presidential Selection Process Hurt Students, Alumni Alike

4 min read

As a fairly recent alumnus of UMW, I’m still reeling from the news that President Hample has resigned.  Unless Judy Hample becomes an alcoholic before June 30, this situation can’t become much more of a disaster for those of us trying to find jobs, or in my case a second job after being laid off, and listing UMW on our resumes.

Now, instead of receiving friendly comments about UMW’s recent rise in the rankings, I’m sure that I will soon be met with questions about our “presidential situation” (and of course, blank stares from those who have never heard of UMW).

At any rate, the Bullet‘s Staff Editorial, published on Feb. 24, makes a number of excellent points.  I would like to highlight and expand upon one of them:  “The first step…is to open the hiring process.”

This will be by far the most critical step that the University can take to end the succession of debacles that have plagued it since William Frawley’s ouster in 2007.  The previous search committee made an extremely serious blunder in deciding to employ a “closed-door” presidential selection strategy.  The committee that selected Frawley was open, but even that was not open enough.  We need intense public scrutiny in our next presidential search, and we need it early on in the process.

While I understand that the search committee that selected Hample had only the best intentions and was seeking to attract a stronger applicant pool, cutting out the bulk of the UMW community was not only unfair, but also foolish.  I believe that the justification for this course of action was that a stronger applicant pool would be available if the search were more private, as candidates would feel more comfortable when subjected to less scrutiny.

This is akin to saying that in order to avoid scaring off qualified candidates in the U.S. presidential election, we should not allow their pasts to be scrutinized by the people they will be elected to serve.
The closed-door strategy seems to make the implicit assumption that truly fit candidates for the presidency of a university are somehow shy, hypersensitive and not used to public scrutiny.

Furthermore, this strategy does exactly what it sets out to do—it makes candidates feel completely insulated from public scrutiny.  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we don’t want.

I thought Hample did a lot of great things as president, but in truth, her sudden departure could have been anticipated, or at least raised as a possibility, before she was selected as president.  A simple Google search reveals that Hample’s tenures at previous positions have sometimes been productive, but also controversial and short-lived.  Sound familiar?

If the previous search committee had opened its doors to the public, this would have been dredged up and fully addressed long before we selected Judy Hample as our president.

I have the following suggestions for the committee that supervises the next search:

-Be transparent as early as possible and as frequently as possible.  Whenever possible, involve the extended UMW community (including students, parents, administrators, faculty and alumni) with every step that they can reasonably get involved with.

-Early in the selection process, publicize the names of the 10 or 20 most qualified candidates being considered.  If over 4,000 people are involved in thoroughly researching the backgrounds of these candidates, issues like the ones Frawley and Hample had in their pasts won’t slip under the radar.  The Bullet is in a perfect position to help disseminate information and assess student reactions to the selection process.

-Don’t select someone who is a member of the UMW community.  We need another outsider with objective strategic vision. I disagree with the claim that the person who is our next president must be someone with intimate knowledge of our institution.  Adding this requirement to the selection process narrows the candidate pool too much.  It’s tempting to think that Hample’s failure to remain a committed partner to the UMW community was caused by the fact that she was an outsider, but I don’t believe that this was the real problem.

We need UMW’s next president to be a person with drive, passion, strategic vision, intelligence and ambition, all things that I believe Judy Hample possessed.  But we need someone who will not get embroiled in intra-administrative conflicts, and who will remain committed to our university.  And yes, alumni and students are affected and do care.

To modify an old saying, 5,000 heads are better than 30 (or however many people were involved in the selection of Hample).  It is imperative that the entire UMW community be involved in the selection of our next president.

Phil White graduated in December of 2008.