Oregon State University’s Board of Trustees plans to select and announce the university’s next president by early next month. In the meantime, the board has committed to a more open and transparent process than the last presidential search — which resulted in the abrupt resignation of OSU’s previous president. But, some still say there has not been as much transparency or community participation as they expected when the university pledged to be more open.

OSU’s Board of Trustees met privately during an executive session Thursday afternoon to begin considering semifinalists. The board also plans to hold confidential executive sessions starting this weekend to conduct interviews with semifinalists via Zoom.

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The final stages of the presidential search come nearly 14 months after OSU’s former president, F. King Alexander, resigned amid criticism that he had mishandled sexual misconduct allegations at his previous school, Louisiana State University.

The circumstances of Alexander’s resignation led to OSU community members calling for more involvement in the presidential search process and greater transparency from the board. And the board reacted to that feedback.

“We know that trust and confidence must be earned,” said Rani Borkar, who presided as OSU Board Chair, at a board meeting about a week after Alexander had resigned. “And we are committed to re-earning what has been lost.”

The board took immediate steps to demonstrate transparency. It launched a website detailing the timeline of the presidential search process. It held community listening sessions earlier this year, in which more than 200 people participated, according to the university. The board said those listening sessions helped to inform the “presidential profile” which includes the broad qualities and qualifications expected of the new leader.

Maybe the biggest change from the process that led to Alexander’s hire is that the names of the presidential finalists will be made public. Those finalists will also be invited to OSU’s main Corvallis campus to meet with the campus community before the board makes its final decision.

Erika McCalpine, OSU’s faculty senate president and executive director of strategic diversity initiatives at OSU-Cascades, said the faculty senate has been getting monthly updates from Trustee Julie Manning on the presidential search process.

McCalpine said that’s wildly different from the closed search process last time.

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“We did not get those regular updates. We didn’t know anything really until the president was selected,” McCalpine said. “So this process is very different, and we are being kept up-to-date from the beginning.”

Along with her duties as leader of the faculty senate and of diversity initiatives at OSU’s Bend campus, McCalpine is also a member of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee — a group of OSU trustees, faculty, students and other stakeholders that is tasked with assisting the board in the presidential search.

Kathleen Stanley, president of OSU’s faculty union — United Academics of OSU, is not one of the other faculty members on that advisory committee, and she said from her perspective there has not been as much transparency and community involvement as she was hoping for.

“Neither our union nor any of the employee unions have been consulted. Only a small group of faculty have been actively involved in the search process,” Stanley told OPB via email.

Stanley acknowledged the listening sessions that took place earlier this year were open to faculty, but she said, “It’s uncertain how the discussions in those sessions have informed the process or selection of candidates.”

Stanley said it is unclear what opportunities faculty will have to engage with the candidates when they visit campus and if faculty feedback will affect the board’s final decision.

“Overall the process is still opaque and lacking in real community participation,” Stanley said.

Faculty senate president and search committee member McCalpine says the current stage in the process — having confidential, closed meetings — is not out of the ordinary.

“All searches are confidential at this stage,” she said. “Everybody on campus is not open and privy to any search that is happening unless they are a member of the search committee.”

McCalpine said she thinks the board has been using feedback from earlier listening sessions to inform the process and make it more open than the last time.

She said the campus visits for the finalists haven’t been structured yet, but she said representatives from the faculty will be part of them.

“It’s hard to predict the future, but I anticipate that the regular updates will continue to happen and that when there is more information that can be shared with the campus community, it will be,” McCalpine said.

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