Editorial: The student voice is crucial in chancellor search process

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Making administrative changes, whether at a company or university, is never an easy task. When Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg announced his imminent retirement in August 2014, a search for a new chancellor was launched. Similarly, Penn State must search for a new leader as its president has plans to step down from his position.

Both universities have selected a committee to assign a new president. The search committee for Pitt’s chancellor includes members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, alumni and students. On the other hand, Penn State has limited its Presidential Selection Council to a small group of influential trustees, limiting the number of differing viewpoints in choosing the new president. 

These searches for new university leaders question the issue of whose input is necessary in selecting a university leader and to what extent a university should seek such input. Universities must acknowledge the importance of students’ voices in the process. After all, the students are those who will be most affected by the choice. Currently, there are very few opportunities for students and the search committee to engage in such a dialogue. 

Pitt has made an effort to include the student perspective, selecting two students to sit on its 26-person search committee: Amelia Brause, a Student Government Board member and David Gau, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Government. Penn State has zero. 

Student involvement provides the student body with the opportunity to discover its expectations of a new chancellor or president. Representatives can ensure that the students’ best interests are in mind.

Penn State and Pitt are currently keeping the names of other potential candidates a secret in their nationwide searches. Ultimately, the decision of who the universities hire comes down to the trustees. Traditionally, Pitt has brought finalists to campus for a series of interviews with the search committee, which represents the interests of all facets of the University. Penn State is being urged to follow this trend as well, although the university’s selection council is fairly one-sided.

Although Pitt has students on its chancellor search committee, it’s imperative that the student body has more input and say in the matter — not just two voices. The Pitt News Editorial Board urges Brause and Gau to be proactive in including the student body in the search for the new chancellor by holding and publicizing student-focused forums to hear their fellow students’ opinions regarding the qualities the new chancellor should embody. 

Likewise, the search committee must make the chancellor selection process more open. The trustees, faculty and alumni should make an effort to engage in open dialogues — beyond the three search forums already held on Oakland’s campus early in the process — and keep the students’ interests in mind as they choose our University’s new leader. 

If the University has the resources to hire Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, an executive search firm, to aid the chancellor search committee, then it has the resources to continue to engage students about the matter as well.