After months of highly secretive deliberations and review of 99 candidates, the Missoula community was finally informed of the identities of the four finalists who will be arriving shortly for interviews for the important post of president of the University of Montana.
In an interview with the Missoulian, Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian, who also serves as the chair of the UM president selection committee, congratulated himself by stating that he had invited “a very talented group of distinguished professionals” to the UM campus (Missoulian, Sept. 7). According to the Missoulian, the finalists include “a senior adviser to former Mexican president Vicente Fox,” a “top executive with General Electric,” a “public university president who counts record enrollment growth of 27 percent at a Missouri campus and a provost of a California university with more than 30,000 students.”
The Missoulian piece, however, ignored the modest and, indeed, pitiable academic qualifications of the four finalists who are being interviewed for the UM presidency. None of the four hails from a strong and accomplished academic and research background and none have terminal degrees from prestigious higher education institutions in the United States.
One received much of his training in hospitality management and hotel administration at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas before acquiring a Ph.D in a yet-unrecognizable field, Man-Environment Relation, from Penn State. Another is a former banker who switched to academia and became the president of Fort Hays State University before she was pushed out of her post after bizarre incidents such as “jokingly” throwing a shoe at her provost, as well as accusations of “abuse of power,” “unethical behavior” and “questionable hiring practices” (The Hays Daily News: Nov. 30, 2016). Yet another finalist hails from a former teachers-training college in the state of Missouri, which has been ranked as No. 86 in Regional Universities Midwest. Finally, we have a candidate with a Missoula connection and without a Ph.D who hails from the United States Armed Forces, counter-insurgency training and the digital world of General Electric.
Is this a real search, for a real president, of an actual university? After everything UM has been through, does Christian expect the UM community to merely chuckle at these four finalists and move along? Anyone concerned for the future of UM is forced to ask: Are these really the best candidates from the pool of 99 individuals who applied for this position? Why does this pool of finalists lack a single candidate with sound academic training and a distinguished research record in a recognizable field of sciences, social sciences, humanities or arts? Is this the outstanding pool of finalists we were promised after the university system spent tens of thousands of dollars on a high-priced executive search firm, not to mention tens of thousands of dollars in travel costs for interviews of the 13 semi-finalist candidates in Minneapolis?
At the end of the day, can Commissioner Christian look Montanans in the face and tell us that he has conducted an open and transparent search and that he is bringing the best and the most accomplished candidates? Before embarrassing ourselves further, it is our humble opinion that Christian should step down immediately from the position of the commissioner of higher education and allow this search process to be handled by legitimate academics and the student and staff members of the University of Montana.