Due Diligence: When it Comes to Madison’s Next Chancellor Now Is the Time

February 24, 2013 | Blog

There’s hardly ever been a more difficult and auspicious time to lead a public flagship university. Yet at the same time, I believe it’s among the greatest opportunities, and anyone would be beyond lucky to have the job.

The last chancellor of UW-Madison nearly undid our relationship with our state. In my opinion, then and now, she was nothing short of disastrous.  And, we have learned since her departure that her employment could have been avoided if only the search had involved a genuine due diligence process before she was brought in for interviews. For example, had due diligence occurred, we would have known– before she came to woo the campus with her charisma– that as long as Biddy’s around, no one needs to have good ideas, for she has them all. In a setting like ours, where shared governance prevails, and we know that good ideas come from all sorts of places, she clearly wouldn’t have fit.

Due diligence is a must when hiring any leader. And it’s incredibly important that it happen before people come for in-person interviews on campuses and in communities– since at that point there’s no going back. In fact, in processes like ours, the naming of candidates for interviews is really the end of the “search and screen” process- the faculty, staff, and students have done their jobs.  In this case, the search and screen was asked to proffer 5 candidates– and it offered 4.  Clearly, its members have been working hard. But now their jobs are essentially done, and the decision is up to UW System President Kevin Reilly and a team of Regents: Charles Pruitt, Regina Millner, Brent Smith, David Walsh, and Student Regent Katherine Pointer.

Since I was curious, I asked Search Chair David McDonald about the process for vetting candidates, and learned that until this point the four candidates have only been vetted using print and online sources, and their “on-list” references (e.g. the people they said to call).  Apparently, no additional investigation into their backgrounds has occurred. This is very disappointing.  We just saw the effects of similar mistakes with the search for a new superintendent of Madison public schools– and here we are again.

So given this state of affairs, I urge people across Wisconsin, and our alumni, to go out and help us learn all we can about the candidates order to help ensure we get a chancellor that will lead this great institution forward in ways that respect our history, our context, our mission, and all of the families of Wisconsin.

Of course, I’ve been doing my homework as well, and in the coming days I will begin to blog about my assessments of each candidate. I am doing this publicly, and independently, as a concerned citizen and long-time employee of this university. My opinions are just that– mine.  I will not pretend that sharing them matters at all, especially to the Regents. But this time around, I think it’s best that all cards are on the table– even if we don’t get the chancellor we want, we need to know whom we’re really dealing with.

The comment box is open, and my email is srab@education.wisc.edu .  Tell us, what do you know about Michael Schill of the University of Chicago, Kim Wilcox of Michigan State University, Nick Jones of Johns Hopkins, and Rebecca Blank of Commerce?

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