CNU Faculty Express Concern Over Being Excluded from the Presidential Search Process

CNU Faculty Express Concern Over Being Excluded from the Presidential Search Process

As the CNU Board of Visitors (BOV) and Presidential Search Committee continue the search for the university’s next president, there is a growing concern amongst faculty who feel that they have been excluded from the process. 


On May 11, 2022, the CNU American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Advocacy Chapter penned an open letter to the administration, signed by nearly 70 different faculty members from various departments.


The letter stated, “We, the undersigned members of the CNU faculty and community were deeply troubled to learn that the Presidential Search Committee has taken the decision that the Presidential Search will be closed, and that the names of the candidates will be ‘confidential … until the new president is announced.’”


The AAUP-CNU statement continued, “This decision goes directly against AAUP policy statements which make clear ‘such decisions to forgo public campus visits and public forums by finalists violate long standing principles of shared university governance… We strongly urge the Board of Visitors and Presidential Search Committee to hold a ‘hybrid’ search and to bring the finalists to campus for visits, as recommended by the Complete Guide to Presidential Searches for Universities and Colleges (pg. 87).”


The aforementioned Complete Guide to Presidential Searches for Universities and Colleges is the book that members of the Presidential Search Committee were given as a guide for the process. 


The book says, “At virtually all public colleges and universities and most independent institutions, the final interviews are an open process, with the identities of candidates announced to the campus and external communities. The use of closed processes – or of ‘hybrid’ ones that combine features of both – is not as widespread. Over recent years, however, it has become more common.”


The guide book highlights the benefits of open campus visits as being a better opportunity for the campus community to get to know the finalists. However, as the book notes, it can also present a challenge to the finalists’ privacy if they wish to remain discreet about their application for the job. 


The CNU faculty and the AAUP received minimal response from the administration after their first open letter. 


In a faculty senate meeting on Oct. 21, faculty discussed the lack of representation on the Presidential Search Committee. The senate noted that they had originally asked for four members of the faculty to be part of the 15 member search committee that consists mainly of current and former BOV members, as well as one student representative. However, only two faculty were appointed: current Faculty Senate president Dr. Rachel Holland and past Faculty Senate president Dr. Tatiana Rizova. Shortly thereafter, Rizova was promoted to Dean of the College of Social Sciences, making Holland the sole full-time faculty member on the committee.


The senate compared these numbers to CNU’s ten person search committee in 1995, which had two faculty members. In addition, the faculty senate shared concerns about restrictions to communication due to the confidentiality agreements that all search committee members must uphold.  


Shortly after this faculty senate meeting, the AAUP-CNU sent another open letter to the BOV on Oct. 24 in which they stated, “… students and faculty are the heart of CNU. Public universities are not private businesses that may operate successfully behind closed doors. All CNU students, faculty, and staff will be impacted by this decision; we deserve a meaningful voice.”


They received no response from the BOV. 


The Captain’s Log sat down with Dr. Sharon Rowley who has been a professor in the English department since 2003 and the president of AAUP-CNU for two years.


 Rowley felt it was her duty as president-elect of AAUP-CNU to speak up on this matter that had many of her colleagues worried. She explained that while faculty members were allowed to participate in open hearings last semester, they’re still being excluded from the conversation.


“There were a bunch of different ways for faculty to provide input, but the frustration now, among many members of the faculty, is that we don’t have any idea if any of our concerns have been taken into consideration,” said Rowley.


She went on to emphasize how important she felt the role of university president is and how impactful the decision can be on the community, “CNU was a very different kind of university before Paul Trible took charge. He turned it into a small, public liberal arts university with a really clear focus and mission. All of this is his vision. So any incoming president has the authority to develop their own vision.”


Students are stakeholders, said Rowley, who believes that the CNU community as a whole is being excluded from the search process.


“One of the questions that keeps running through my mind is, what kind of person would want to take the top job without ever meeting the community? I’m really concerned that they’re not being given the opportunity to meet us, and we’re not being given the opportunity to meet them. Our goal in both letters is to get to meet the two or three finalists that they are considering for this job that will affect thousands of people here in Newport News,” said Rowley.


The Captain’s Log also talked with Associate Professor and Chair, Dr. Alice Veksler of the Department of Communication. Veksler voiced her frustration with the closed search and the faculty not being allowed to directly appoint their own representatives.


“There should be shared governance and therefore shared decision making when it comes to selecting leadership. To exclude everyone, really, from such an important process is deeply problematic,” said Veksler.


With regards to the student voice, Veksler said, “I think they should be angry. I don’t think anyone should be complacent when they’re being excluded from a conversation that they should be a part of. It’s CNU, we pride ourselves on a liberal arts education and we pride ourselves on helping students mature into members of the citizenry.”


The Captain’s Log reached out to the university for clarification and further comment on the matter. The university shared a document outlining some of the background and details of the search process. 


The document stated that the Rector of Christopher Newport’s Board of Visitors, Robert

Hatten, “had originally thought he would only request one person but after consideration of how important academics are to this institution, he decided two members of faculty should be chosen. He told the Board he appointed Dr. Rachel Holland and Dr. Tatiana Rizova to serve on the committee because they are already leaders among the faculty. Their leadership roles are a result of being selected by their peers to represent them.”


The document also included a quote from Hatten, “We have a good plan and are committed to completing this national search with great success. As the search unfolds, we will ask the entire CNU family to offer advice. We will endeavor to make this process as transparent as possible, mindful that safeguards must be placed on personnel matters.”