Napolitano choice fuels criticism over UC system's selection process

Michael McLendon, education policy professor at SMU's Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, talks about controversy surrounding the University of California's closed-selection process for hiring higher education leaders.

By Larry Gordon

The high-profile and surprising choice of former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to head the UC system has fueled criticism over the secret selection process, echoing debates around the country about how higher-education leaders are chosen.

Supporters of a more open method say that better decisions are made when three or four finalists for a university presidency or chancellorship are formally identified to the public. At that point, faculty and students could have a chance to meet them before a final selection.
Some public universities in other states are required to do just that, but the UC and Cal State systems usually do not name more than one finalist and do not divulge the closed-door discussions that led to the nomination. Additionally, the final votes by the UC regents and Cal State trustees provide little information about the searches.

Though widely praised, the selection of Napolitano in July also came as a shock to many outside a relatively small circle of UC regents and other officials.
Some activists at California's public campuses and elsewhere hope to change California's higher-education hiring procedures....

Such controversies probably will increase in the next few years as more top university executives in the baby boom generation retire, said Michael McLendon, a professor of higher-education policy and leadership at Southern Methodist University.
With more states pushing for confidentiality and other constituencies advocating for information, McLendon said, "the question will be where do we draw the line to balance those interests."