University of Wisconsin System President Kevin P. Reilly today announced that a detailed review of procedures used to recruit and screen candidates for the UW-Parkside Chancellor post is under way. Findings from that review will be used to improve future searches, including those at UW-Green Bay and UW-River Falls.
Over the past four years, the UW System has hired nine new Chancellors, employing a transparent, inclusive process that begins with a local search and screen committee comprised of faculty, staff, students and community members. The institutional committee recommends a slate of finalists, each of whom visits the campus and meets with various stakeholder groups. Based on information gathered through campus visits, interviews, public comments, professional references, and background checks, the UW System president and a select committee of Regents recommend a preferred candidate. Finally, the new Chancellor is appointed by the full Board of Regents.
UW System’s search method is an exceptionally open one, compared to most public- and private-sector organizations, including other institutions of higher education in the United States. It has resulted in the appointments of successful Chancellors who have led their institutions to record enrollment levels, higher national rankings, successful fundraising campaigns, new research prominence, and other achievements. However, the failed search at UW-Parkside may provide insights about ways to improve future processes.
Following a competitive national search, Robert Felner was recommended as one of four finalists for the UW-Parkside post on April 30. His name, photo, biography and curriculum vitae were released and posted on a public Internet site. Members of the public were invited to hear his campus presentation and submit comments, as they were for three other finalists. Five weeks later, on June 5, the UW System Board of Regents approved Felner’s appointment. During this time, no information or public comments surfaced that warned of a current or pending investigation involving Felner.
On Sunday, June 22, Felner informed UW System leaders of an investigation at the University of Louisville that involved the College of Education and Human Development, where he served as Dean. On Monday, June 23, UW System officials learned that federal agents had visited UW-Parkside on Friday, June 20 to examine papers belonging to Felner. Within two days of the first notification, UW System requested and obtained Felner’s resignation in advance of his first day of employment in Wisconsin.
Upon learning of the Louisville investigation, the UW System immediately began reviewing available information about Felner during the UW-Parkside search. Although none of the information pointed to any kind of improper activity, the UW System has identified a few areas where problems may have occurred. A review of these areas may help improve future searches:
- References – In the UW-Parkside search, much information obtained about Felner through professional references painted a very positive picture of his performance at both the University of Louisville and the University of Rhode Island. However, the number and type of references interviewed may have been insufficient, affecting the quality and breadth of information obtained. Information about a 2006 vote of no confidence by Louisville faculty was not shared with everyone involved in the Parkside hiring process.
- Roles and Relationships – Based on current information about the UW-Parkside search process, UW System will work to clarify roles, responsibilities, relationships and expectations for everyone involved in the search process. This will include clear guidelines and checklists for individuals, committee chairs, external search consultants, UW System Administration staff and others. These written guidelines will provide clear procedures and mechanisms for gathering, verifying, analyzing and sharing all available information about candidates in a manner that ensures an unfettered, unbiased examination of each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Timelines – The timeline for the UW-Parkside search allowed roughly three months to recruit a pool of qualified candidates, evaluate applications, conduct preliminary interviews, check references, name finalists, schedule public presentations, interview finalists and appoint the new Chancellor. Compared to most Chancellor searches, this was a more compressed timeline – about two weeks shorter than the successful search for a new UW-Madison Chancellor. UW System officials will examine the impact of this shorter timeline on the search committee’s ability to fulfill its charge.
Reilly will ask a qualified independent consultant to explore these issues and related topics, with a goal of providing specific recommendations by mid-August. This will ensure that lessons learned can be incorporated into upcoming Chancellor searches at UW-Green Bay and UW-River Falls, as well as a new search at UW-Parkside.
Search committees have been appointed at UW-Green Bay and UW-River Falls, with the process of recruiting and screening candidates scheduled to begin in the Fall when students and faculty return to campus. This will allow sufficient time to complete the review of the search process and incorporate improvements into these institutional searches.
UW System will name an interim Chancellor for UW-Parkside before August 1, when Chancellor Jack Keating is scheduled to step down from his post after more than 10 years of service. Once that interim leadership is in place, and findings from this review committee are submitted, Reilly will work with campus leaders to identify a new campus search and screen committee to help lead a national search for a new Chancellor.