Ferris State University’s appointment of Grand Rapids Community College President Bill Pink as its next president was the result of a strict and stringent search for candidates.
The typical reason for not disclosing the candidates for the position is to prevent their jobs from being jeopardized. If the search was open, the primary concern for the Search Advisory Committee is that the news would discourage possible candidates from applying, for fear of damaging their current positions.
Still, Ferris State’s closed search took its privacy to a new level. In what is being called an extremely “restrictive” agreement, the college required candidates and those involved to sign an NDA, or a non-disclosure agreement, which would legally bar individuals from disclosing any information regarding the hunt for a new president.
Amna Siebold, FSU Board Chairperson defended the board’s decision to conduct a closed search before revealing Pink as the “selected finalist” during today’s presidential announcement in Big Rapids. She cited the need for privacy when making decisions about college leadership.
“Many applied only when they knew the search was going to be completely confidential,” Siebold said. “More and more universities are using an entirely confidential process, which expands the applicant pool. How would colleges feel if they found out their sitting president applied to a different university?”
Still, detractors of the closed search process cite the lack of input of the community as the prime reason to keep the search for candidates open and transparent.
FSU Faculty Association President Charles Bacon has previously stated that he is unhappy that this was a closed search and has gone to the FSU Board of Trustees with concerns about the search. Following the announcement in an interview with the Collegiate, Bacon said while he is still unhappy with how the search was completed, he is looking to the future and is hopeful.
“I would rather move on… the search is done and it’s time to work with President Pink when he comes in and I don’t want to focus back on the process,” Bacon said.
Bacon wanted it to be an open search because that gives the faculty the opportunity to get to know each candidate including Pink and have an input in who was chosen.
“I prefer to have an open search,” Bacon said. “The search firm… as well as the board members felt that it was better to protect the candidates than have an open search and that’s the way they went.
Frank Conner, Faculty Association President and Chair of the Psychology Department at GRCC, said he believes there is no place for closed searches at a public college like GRCC.
“…I think it is absolutely inappropriate for a state institution,” Conner said. “I think it is important for the public as a whole to have input on who their president can be. Private schools can do whatever they want, but when you are talking about a state institution, then I do believe the state shareholders, the community shareholders should be aware of who the finalists are.”
The prevalence of closed searches has been on the rise in recent years, especially for top university positions.
In February of this year, the University of Michigan began the search for its 15th president, and with the departure of Pink, a vacancy is open at GRCC now, as well. Conner is hopeful that closed searches will not become the norm, especially as it concerns public institutions.
“I know that the faculty as a body would adamantly oppose that,” Conner said. “As a community college, that would be unethical and disrespectful to our community.”
While Pink’s departure from GRCC came as a shock to many, Conner is not surprised or offended by his departure.
“I knew the search was happening at Ferris,” Conner said. “When I say this, it is not a criticism of President Pink. I wouldn’t expect him not to apply. My criticism is for Ferris and the process. Was I surprised? Yes and no, the presidents turn over every six to eight years. We have kind of seen that with our last three presidents. The fact that he is leaving, no I am not surprised. I always expected he would be looking to advance his career. I wasn’t aware and nobody was because of the secret process. When I heard I was like ‘wow, okay.’ But, big picture, no.”
The man who Pink will replace at FSU, David Eisler, has been in his post for 18 years, and he stands to make a substantial sum on his way out the door.
According to The Ferris State Torch, Eisler’s compensation package for 2021 totals $612,766. While that might seem like a lot to the average student, Conner thinks it’s important to remember the work that goes into education, while also considering the comparative salaries available in the private sector.
“…Philosophically, people who are committed to community colleges are committed to the mission of community colleges,” Conner said. “(They are committed) to what we do and the value that community colleges provide to the world. There are strong faculty who are committed to this ideal. We don’t want someone who wants to be the president at Eastern Michigan University. That is a totally different system. There are plenty of good folks out there, the upside is there are plenty of community colleges in the country. We would be a stepping stone for a lot of sitting presidents or provosts.”
While he would hate to see a closed search for Pink’s replacement, Conner recognizes the need for someone who understands learning in this suddenly available position at GRCC.
“I mean number one we need an academic,” Conner said. “They should be scholars themselves, they have to understand our work. They need experience in the classroom, and different experiences with leadership, and experience with higher education. We want someone who is collaborative. We are open to collaborating with the institution. We need them to remember that students come first. Student learning is the only reason we exist. Having a president who has a history of teaching in scholarship, who understands shared governance in a collaborative approach, and who is willing to bet their careers on putting students first.”
One thing Conner stressed was that the college need not rush into making a pick for the next president. After all, President Pink said that he will remain in his post into the summer, helping with the transition.
“The one thing that I would advocate for and hope for is that in moving forward, the Board of Trustees is vigilant, thoughtful, and moves at a pace that allows them to get the best candidate,” Conner said. “We are a good stable institution, we don’t have to rush. We don’t want to wait a year necessarily, this process usually takes several months, but we can wait and the college will be fine.”
GRCC Chairperson David Koetje put out a statement following this morning’s announcement explaining that the board will be coming up with a plan to start the process of finding the next president. The board has yet to announce if the new search will be opened or closed.
“The Board of Trustees will soon meet to establish the process we will use to find our next president,” Koetje said in a statement. “Be assured that key GRCC stakeholders will play an important role in this selection process. We will keep you informed as this process moves along.”
Editor-in-Chief Kaia Zimmerman and news editor Elizabeth Halvorson contributed to this report