FA News: Interim administrators (10/17)

Here’s a message to faculty sent on 10/17/2019. 
I write to you in some haste and urgency, as it has become increasingly clear that the campus administration, and indeed the Board of Trustees, has decided to adopt a “policy” of removing the interim qualification from the titles of administrators who have not been selected as the result of a full search process. This is, in fact, not a policy but a unilateral decision to abandon policy and make major changes by administrative fiat. 

Full status in an administrative position—so-called “permanent status”—reflects a level of institutional support that cannot be legitimately awarded simply at the pleasure of the chancellor or, indeed, by the board of trustees itself. Leaders chosen as a result of full, legitimate searches, with full input from all relevant campus constituency groups, enjoy a level of trust and support earned as result of that search process. It is this status and legitimacy, rather than any expectation of endless tenure in a post, that is the essence of what permanent status means. If SIUC is to have fewer interim administrators, the only legitimate way to do so is by having full, open searches that seek the widest possible pool of qualified candidates and give all relevant constituencies their proper role in the search process. 
Make no mistake: the removal of “interim” from an administrator’s job title is not merely a pat on the back for good service, or a PR move to make SIUC look more stable. It denies students, staff, and faculty their right to participate in the choices about who is to lead our university. 
Just this past summer, SIUC was reprimanded by the state of Illinois for failure to follow proper search procedures. We appear to have learned nothing from that experience. The current effort to remove “interim” by fiat from the titles of administrators who were not hired as the result of proper searches will not give those administrators greater authority or legitimacy; it will instead delegitimize them, and indeed delegitimize the administration as a whole. 
There are times when it is entirely appropriate to have administrators serving in an interim status. This is one of those times. We are currently in a time of transition, in part due to the need to hire a system president and campus chancellor, in part due to the disorganization caused by the reorganization process. The latter, I will note, is a self-inflicted wound. We cannot wish away this transition period by claiming a degree of administrative stability we do not enjoy. We can, however, as the board is doing, move forward expeditiously with searches for president and chancellor. Once those positions are filled, we should promptly turn to full searches for the rest of the administrative team on campus. Some of those searches (like that for provost) could be done as soon as a new chancellor and president are in office. Others (like those for deans of yet to be formed colleges) should be done once we have settled on our new academic structure. 
I attach a letter I sent the board of trustees regarding the chancellor’s decision to do an internal search to name a permanent provost. The formalities of an internal search may be followed in that case, removing the threat of illegality or violations of ethics rules. But the intent behind the search is unmistakeable: it is an effort to remove the word “interim” from the job title of our current interim provost. It is part of the same process that will deny the campus community the opportunity to weigh in on a full slate of qualified candidates for administrative positions. 
I urge faculty, if they share these concerns, to share them with their representatives on the Faculty Senate and Graduate Council, their administrative superiors, and with the wider community. SIUC faces real and pressing challenges. To face them, we need an administration that enjoys the trust of the campus community. That trust, however, must be earned. We need to be able to trust that our administrators have been chosen appropriately, with full input from the students, staff, and faculty they are expected to serve.
In solidarity, 
Dave Johnson

About Dave Johnson
I'm an Associate Professor in Classics at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Among other things.

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