Imagine that in 2018, the Baltimore Orioles did not hire Mike Elias as their general manager. That instead of going outside the system and hiring somebody to change the culture and change the organization, they just promoted somebody from within without doing their due diligence of considering candidates from outside of the team.
That scenario did not happen in Baltimore, but it is playing out on College Hill.
Upon hearing the recent news regarding the appointment of the new president of McDaniel College, I was filled with great curiosity and one question filled my mind: “Why now?”
Please do not take this as an indictment of the new president, Dr. Julia Jasken. She may very well be the right candidate for the position.
But I would hardly call this process a “search.”
When the college sent an email to alumni and interested parties on Nov.20, the Search Transition Team released what they called a “detailed narrative which will serve as McDaniel’s Presidential Search Profile.” The narrative contained a detailed description of what the search committee was looking for in a new president.
It would appear that the “process” was not indicative of any real search or interest in a new vision for the future.
Making a decision to promote from within on Dec. 14, more than 45 days prior to the deadline for applications for consideration is an endorsement of the status quo and a repudiation of the transformational leadership the Presidential Search Committee implied that it was looking for.
Maybe there was a really fantastic administrator from an elite institution who wanted to apply for the job, but they delayed pulling together an application until after Christmas. Now, the search committee will never know because they decided to close off the application process.
This has happened before. Two years after I graduated from Western Maryland College, the administration made a unilateral decision to change the name to McDaniel College, a change that I and many other alumni opposed. It was an unnecessary, expensive, and ultimately pointless decision made by a bureaucracy disconnected from what changes the college actually needed.
Something similar appears to be happening now. In the wake of the gutting of course offerings, elimination of majors, and a reduction in staff, the Search Committee and ultimately the Board of Trustees shrugged their shoulders and said, “This is fine.”
If your search is less of a search and boils down to “let’s just promote the next person in line” it was not a search all and is indicative of a culture and leadership problem.
It seems clear that McDaniel’s trustees do not know what they want the college to be or where it fits into the higher education ecosystem. They seem to not understand its market, customers, or stakeholders. Like always, they are running the college like a family business, an interpretation buoyed by the concept of promoting the new President from within. That may have worked 30 years ago, but it does not work in today’s ultra-competitive higher education environment.
It is entirely possible that, at the end of the day, Jasken is the best choice. But it also might not in the context of a college that is clearly going through a transitional phase with the potential for crisis. This calls for transformative leadership. Not the next person up.
The trustees, unfortunately, will never know if a better candidate exists by closing the process this quickly, electing Jasken unanimously before the application deadline is even closed. The trustees owed it to the students, the faculty, the alumni, and to the community to explore all of their options first.
Brian Griffiths is a resident of Pasadena and a 2000 graduate of Western Maryland College. He is a columnist for The Capital in Annapolis, the publisher of The Duckpin, available for free at TheDuckpin.com, and host of The Duckpin Podcast, available on YouTube and wherever podcasts are available. He can be reached via email at email@example.com, on Twitter @BrianGriffiths, or on Facebook at facebook.com/briangriffithsmd.
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