It is imperative that the University of Utah and state leaders consider the very best candidates from across the country to replace outgoing University of Utah President David Pershing.
The state’s flagship university deserves no less — especially at a time when the next president will be charged with hiring a new CEO of University of Utah Health Care and, according to multiple sources, replacing various vice presidents and other top administrators who are said to be eyeing retirement in the next few years.
Which is why certain rumors circulating at the university that an internal candidate has already been "promised" the job are troubling.
To be clear, it may very well be that an internal hire is the right move for the University of Utah. In recent years, Utah has seemed to skew toward ostensibly safe internal hires. The past two presidents of Utah State University, for example, have been internal hires. President David Pershing was also an internal hire.
Yet recent events have sparked public questions about the decision-making of the University of Utah’s key internal players.
The state deserves the chance to vet the best candidates from across the country without losing out on certain prospects because of any perceived front-runner status by anyone internally. It’s well-known that external prospects shy away from applying when they perceive, correctly or not, that an internal candidate already has a leg up in the process.
And the best candidate may not necessarily come from the academic world. Several years ago, during the hiring process at a local university, a member of Utah's Board of Regents proposed the name of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell as a hypothetical candidate. A few faculty members on the committee immediately raised objections regarding Powell's lack of scholarly bona fides.
That kind of a guild mentality is shortsighted and would undermine the interests of an institution that is in need of leadership.
The university’s search committee should be open to consider the good that business leaders or civic-oriented individuals such as, for example, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Gov. Mitt Romney, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. or Gov. Mike Leavitt, among others, might bring to such a post.
The University of Utah is one of the state’s most important institutions, and it should command the very best. That may mean an internal candidate, but that decision should only be made at the appropriate time by the appropriate players.
Those on campus would do well to join the state in promoting a fair and thorough process that the Board of Regents has rightly promised and outlined.