Final candidates to replace Merten to meet with Faculty Senators

President Merten speaks at a champagne toast to President Merten and his wife, Sally, during Alumni weekend. (Jake McLernon)

A small number of Faculty Senators are expected to meet Sunday in a closed meeting with an unreleased number of final candidates for the university president position.

The announcement was made at Wednesday’s Faculty Senate meeting amid heated discussion over the confidentiality of the search process. Only Faculty Senate members are invited to attend Sunday’s meeting.

Though several Faculty Senators acknowledged the situation’s conflict with a portion of the Faculty Handbook – one which said the selection process must include opportunities for the entire faculty to meet the final candidates – Faculty Senate endorsed the forum with a 17 to 13 vote.

Faculty Senators who choose to attend Sunday’s meeting will have to sign a confidentiality agreement, and will not be informed of the location of the meeting until Saturday evening. If the forum this Sunday is the only meeting held in the search process, it will violate the Faculty Handbook, a binding document.

Last month the Faculty Senate voted on a resolution that asked the Presidential Search Committee to support a search process, which would include open meetings with the final candidates and the general faculty. The resolution also reminded the committee of a section in the Faculty Handbook that said “the search and selection process must include opportunities for the general faculty to meet with candidates who are finalists for the presidency.”

“Apparently the Board of Visitors doesn’t feel compelled to follow a contract they approved,” said a faculty senator who asked to not be named.

The faculty handbook’s provisions are binding on the University and on individual faculty members, according to the faculty handbook website.

“Great damage was done to the university [Wednesday], and I don’t think it’s done,” said Susan Trencher, a faculty senator and chair of the sociology and anthropology department.

The Staff Senate and Student Senate both passed similar resolutions to the Faculty Senate, which asked for an input in the search process. Neither body, however, will be able to send members of their senate to Sunday’s forum, except for those already serving on the presidential search committee.

According one member of the presidential search committee, it’s not likely a meeting between the search finalists, students, and general faculty will occur.

June Tangney, a professor of psychology and faculty senator who serves on the search committee, said an open forum with the final candidates “is not going to happen.”

The issue of confidentiality has been a topic of debate concerning the presidential search since September. Tangney told the Faculty Senate that she and the other senators on the search committee have tried to get an open forum with the candidates but the issue of the finalists’ names being released to the public, has led to concern among the search committee that the finalists would drop out of the search.

“I understand this is not the ideal circumstance,” said Tangney about the closed meeting, who helped present the idea with Senator Linda Monson, also on the search committee, to the Faculty Senate.

But for many faculty senators the idea of attending a meeting that goes against the faculty handbook, and doesn’t invite other elected members of the university, including staff and students was too much.

“[The] university community has been split by the distinction made by the board,” Trencher said.

Trencher said she won’t be attending the meeting on Sunday, along with the presumed 12 other senators who voted against the forum. She said she is unsure what the next step in the search is if the general faculty can’t have input and meet with the finalists.

Faculty, staff, and students were given an opportunity through e-mail, earlier in the search, to describe what they would like to see in the next president at Mason. Respondents were able to respond to a survey where they could write about their ideal president.

But Trencher and other senators at Wednesday’s meeting asked if Mason really wants a president who doesn’t agree to an open meeting with the general faculty before being named president.

“If you’re an incoming president, is this the game you want to play?” said Trencher.

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