Murray State Regents Set Presidential Search Process After Intense Debate

Dec 8, 2018

The committee in charge of searching for the next Murray State University president is moving forward with a process that will not include an outside search firm. The Board of Regents vote of seven to four on Friday followed an intense debate. 

The board also passed, seven to four, a measure moving the interim president to a finalist, thereby bypassing the search committee process. The board ultimately selects the president from a list of finalists presented by the committee, which could also now automatically include the interim.

Advancing Interim To Finalist

Regent Chair Susan Guess put before the board a consideration to advance the interim president to a finalist, should the interim apply for the position. Bob Jackson is the interim president. Some have expressed support to the search committee for his appointment to president. The move means the search committee wouldn’t consider whether he should move on to become a finalist because he will automatically be one.

“I think, in terms of conversations that I’ve heard these last few weeks, it takes away any fear of fairness,” Guess said, adding that she didn’t think it’d be a surprise to any candidates that the interim would advance. “Furthermore, I think when you put someone in the position of interim you’ve already indicated that they are fit for the position,” she said.

Voting in favor of advancing the interim president to a finalist:

  • Yes: Crigler, Farmer, Gray, Kemp, Rhoads, Schooley, Guess
  • No: Green, Payne, Rudolph, Tharpe

The Process & A Search Firm:

Guess put forward the same process used in the previous search with the exception of 10 committee members instead of nine. Regent Dan Kemp moved to adopt that process with the exception of a paragraph that gives the committee the ability to engage a search firm. The previous presidential search firm cost more than $138,000.

Kemp said he didn't think it was necessary to spend the money to hire a national search firm. He said there's a strong sense that Murray State needs to hire a president familiar with the university and who understands the region (these sentiments were expressed by faculty and staff, as well as students, at recent forums).

Regent Don Tharpe said he felt hiring a president is the most important decision a board makes. He said he didn't think money is an issue when it comes to finding the best person. He suggested the interim would not put his name in the hat if the committee were to hire a search firm and that it could be a factor in how people are voting on the issue.  “People are talking about it,” he said. Responding to this, other regents shifted the conversation back to the search process.

Regent Jerry Rhoads said there have been too many “short-tenured” presidents. "We haven't had the continuity that we've needed and we've paid the price for it," he said, listing declining enrollment and low morale as examples. He said a search firm doesn't always bring the right person. He said the board should listen to sentiments of faculty and staff and said an outside firm would be an avoidable expense. "We're better equipped to know what the right fit is for Murray State than individuals at an external firm would submit to us," he said.

Regent Vice Chair Lisa Rudolph, who also chairs the search committee, said the board has a responsibility to create a fair and impartial search process and said it's not the time for shortcuts. She argued bringing in a firm would bring in people Murray State is advertising for. She said the committee is “handcuffed” without a search firm and said it’s a lot to put on the committee.

Regent Virginia Gray suggested contracting a firm for partial services, such as headhunting. Vice President of Finance and Administration Jackie Dudley said there is a consultant already on contract who could do this work for around half of the price of a full firm, but this would need approval from a state agency.

Student Regent J.T. Payne said, responding to Rhoads’ comments, the decision on who to hire isn’t made by a firm but rather the committee (who advances finalists to the board, which makes the final decision). He said money is available to hire a search firm. "138 thousand is a drop in the bucket," he said. "It won't affect tuition, the number of faculty and staff or department budgets." He noted that a majority of students at a recent forum wanted a search firm (this is true; significantly more students raised their hands in favor of a firm).

Payne suggested an amendment to give the committee an option to engage a firm for the purpose of soliciting candidates. After some discussion on the matter with regard to details involving how to proceed with a firm, Payne later attempted to withdraw this amendment after a dissent from Rhoads. "Since I think it's obviously going to fail, and in the words of Jerry Rhoads 'this is bullshit' I move to withdraw my amendment," Payne said. This motion could not be withdrawn, however, because it had been seconded (by Tharpe).

Vote for Payne's amendment:

  • Yes: Payne, Tharpe
  • No: Crigler, Farmer, Gray, Green, Kemp, Rhoads, Rudolph, Schooley, Guess

Following the vote on Payne’s amendment was a vote on the original motion with Kemp’s amendment (meaning no search firm):

  • Yes: Crigler, Farmer, Gray, Kemp, Rhoads, Schooley, Guess
  • No: Green, Payne, Rudolph, Tharpe

After the meeting, Director of Communication Shawn Touney said a copy of the approved plan is not available because the board was using a working document and the changes/updates would be presented as part of the minutes to be approved at the March meeting. However, he confirmed it was the same as the 2013 process with the exception of the changes noted in this story. That 2013 process can be found here on Page 7.