20 July 2007

Finally, some progress in the AU president search

The Post gave us this little teaser this morning saying that the recalcitrant American University Board of Trustees might actually bother to pick a president tomorrow, and that it will probably be the interim president the University has already had for two years.

Well gee guys, it's about damn time.

My woes with AU governance started just shortly after I enrolled there as a graduate student. I watched in horror as President Moronic Asshole Thief stole a lot of money, was caught, and then was given severance pay. After all, I was a student rep to the Board of Trustees when I was in college, and I got a nice tutorial in college and university finances. I also enjoyed, and helped improve, a fairly open and transparent system of governance back when I was a lowly undergrad at liberal arts college. That hey day ended as soon as I got to AU, and I realized how good I'd had it before.

I also got really damn pissed off. And I said so. And it got me nowhere. So I shut up. Anyway.

I think Neil Kerwin will be a fine president at AU. He hasn't had a lot of leverage in the past to years, as he's basically been seen as a caretaker, and as the Post reveals, hasn't really been taken seriously by the Board until just recently. But he seems to be an amiable guy. He actually can be seen walking around on campus, smiling and saying hi to people, which is something his predecessor didn't do (probably because his fat ass was being driven around everywhere).

Nonetheless, this search has been run in a smoke-filled room, with as little transparency as humanly possible. Indeed, there were student, faculty, and alumni reps on the search committee, but no one was allowed to talk about anything. The only public forums on the subject dealt with characteristics various constituencies would like to see in a new president, which of course led to a lot of "we'd like someone who isn't a crook, please." I understand being sensitive to candidates' needs to keep things quiet, but I don't think it's unreasonable to at least name the finalists and bring them to campus for general ogling (sans press).

Even this process would have been more tolerable if the Board had been more transparent to begin with. In spite of going through a big governance reform process during 2006, it seems that most changes were cosmetic. Although a student and a faculty member were added to the Board (without vote), the process of selecting those individuals was done completely in private, after the initial solicitation of applications. In short, who the hell knows what the AU Board will do, except the Board itself. It was telling when, after completing its so-called reform, the Senate Finance Committee wrote back and said "not good enough," to which the Board basically responded "tough." Frankly, inviting a couple more people to your meetings and publishing a very, very brief summary of meetings doesn't quite make Board operations transparent. There needs to be actual effective communication back and forth, and in that regard, the AU Board is still seriously lacking.

Nonetheless, I'm excited about tomorrow's announcement. AU left a bad taste in my mouth at the end of two years. While I think it's a fantastic institution academically, the fact that it's managed by idiots/assholes at the highest level rather casts a negative light on the whole thing. If we could get a forward looking president with the genuine best interests of the University in mind, and a Board that is willing to exercise its responsibilities while neither grandstanding nor micromanaging, then things will be in good shape. If Neil Kerwin is given the authority to do that, then I'm all for it. I guess now we wait and see.

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