It’s no secret that college and university presidential searches are, increasingly, cloaked in secrecy until after a final decision is made. Such is the case at Appalachian State University, where the search committee is opting to keep its search for a new chancellor confidential.
But this week, student news outlet The Appalachian challenged that decision with a front-page editorial asking the university to reconsider. (You can also read the editorial here.)
Appalachian editor Michael Bragg said he doesn’t necessarily expect the university to heed the paper’s call for reconsideration — though that would be ideal. Still, he’s hopeful that the editorial will at least help by “highlighting this issue, gaining support and adding to the conversation in this country about the risky behavior of closed searches.”
“Just because we’re part of the student newspaper and often criticize this university does not mean we don’t love this place,” Bragg, who’s rounding out his second term as the paper’s editor-in-chief, wrote in an email. “We want what is best for Appalachian State University, and we are confident that this current debacle will not play out as well as an open search would have.”
Here’s more of what Bragg had to say about the editorial and the issue of closed searches, from an interview conducted via email:
Why did you want to call attention to this issue of closed presidential searches?
Bragg: There weren’t a lot of people talking about this issue on campus, including us for a little while. I thought about the idea of an editorial to bring this issue to the attention of the university, and we all decided as an editorial board to move forward.
What did you hope to accomplish by running this editorial?
Bragg: We really wanted to shine a light on the issue for the public to see and for them to see why we think the closed search is not beneficial to the university. We felt that if we made our argument strong enough and really out there that it could generate support for more openness, or at least more conversation about the manner of the search.
What gave you the idea to run it on the front page?
Bragg: I had seen college newspapers run front page editorials, and I always wanted to do one if we had a strong enough opinion or subject worth displaying on page one. After some consideration, we decided this issue was important enough and that our position was equally as strong and compelling.
How do you plan to address this issue moving forward?
Bragg: We will continue contacting the spokesperson of the committee for updates as regularly as possible, but we’ll continue to read over North Carolina’s laws regarding open records and open meetings to see what our options and rights are as the press and as citizens of the state, since this is a state-funded university.
Do you think you’ll consider more nontraditional editorial formats for big issues in the future?
Bragg: If there is an issue that is as important and calls for this kind of format, then yes. However, we don’t want to be known as a newspaper that pushes editorials over news content too often. We’ll just have to know when the timing is right.
What feedback have you received?
Bragg: Almost all of the feedback has been positive and supportive. The reaction from campus so far has not been as strong or numerous as I had initially hoped for, but it’s still there and I’m grateful for that. We’ve also had support and feedback through our social media accounts from people and organizations not from Boone or North Carolina.
You cited SPLC’s reporting on the trend in closed executive searches — in what ways do you think other college students could speak up about the issue?
Bragg: I think they should start with understanding the issue at their school and then comparing that to similar cases, much like we did. By doing that, we saw how these searches could play out based on other scenarios at other schools. I think looking into the open records and open meetings laws in your state can help reinforce your stance – or sadly weaken it in some cases, but that should not deter them from speaking against closed searches.
But overall, I think college students need to make their voices heard. Sure, we’ll only be at the university for four years, but we have a stake in these institutions, and we deserve to know what’s going on in the search for its next leader. And if we don’t speak up for ourselves, let’s say something for the benefit of the faculty, staff, surrounding community and alumni.