By Kyeland Jackson —

Professor Susan Jarosi asked for open discussion about the presidential search on Nov. 20 and the U of L Board of Trustees answered with silence. After a pause, Board Chair David Grissom asked if there would be further discussion and prepared to move to the next issue. But faculty trustee Enid Trucios-Haynes pressed for conversation on the search, opening a tense debate on how the university would find its next president.

Jarosi, also president for U of L’s American Association of University Professors, said the board has made missteps and delays in the search. Presidential search hearing tours, promised for constituents to voice opinions about the search, lay among those delays. Jarosi questioned the tours, pointing to 18 letters constituents sent to the board which, she says, received no answer.

“This is your opportunity to speak to us, meaning everyone here, about your thoughts on this process because we’ve heard so little from you,” Jarosi said. “A lot of faculty are asking what a listening tour means if we send 18 letters to you and we don’t receive a response or an acknowledgement or response. Are you really listening?”

Acting Provost Dale Billingsley wrote one of those letters. Billingsley said an open search is vital to building a relationship with the university.

“It is critical to the academic enterprise, to the pursuit of freedom, academic freedom and intellectual freedom, for that business to go forward in the way that we have understood it,” Billingsley said. “It is critical for the academic community of the university to understand the commitment of this board and the future president of the university to act on behalf of the students and the faculty in the pursuit of the academic mission of the university.”

When the discussion ended, five trustees had offered criticism or recommendations for the presidential search process. Among them was SGA President Vishnu Tirumala, who suggested search finalists meet with councils on campus. In closing, Jarosi warned keeping the search closed would be divisive.

But the board’s chair doubled down.

Grissom said Tirumala’s suggestion wouldn’t work, and reiterated the importance of a closed search. The board might discuss a compromise for the search with its presidential search firm.

“While we have received substantial communications from the faculty in opposition to this process, we continue to believe this process will produce the best possible candidates,” Grissom said, reading from a hand-written statement. “The closed search process is best practice and is most likely to produce the best possible man or woman to be our next president.”

Raymond Burse, Kentucky State University’s former president, defended Grissom and the closed search. Grissom, Burse said, works hard for the university and is trying to better it.

“I know individuals who would be interested in this position who are sitting presidents. I can tell you, they’re not going to apply if their names going to be plastered across the media,” Burse said. “What I have seen and observed is a chairman who is hardworking, honest, always above board, making certain that every view and every point of view is heard out and taken care of … I appreciate the leadership that you’re providing and giving to this board.

The deadline for the president’s position was extended to January, but the soft deadline is Dec. 1. Listening tours are also expected to happen in January.

Grissom declined to say how many candidates are vying for the spot, but Interim President Greg Postel said he has submitted his name for the position. U of L Professor Ricky Jones also announced he may apply for the position in an interview with the Cardinal on Nov. 20.

File Photo / The Louisville Cardinal