This second letter from ACLU-NH Executive Director Devon Chaffee and NAACP-Seacoast President Rogers Johnson, was sent to the University of New Hampshire Board of Trustees and its Presidential Search Committee in early 2018. The first letter was sent to the UNH Board of Trustees and it's Presidnetial Search Committee in Fall 2017 and ran in the Foster's Daily Democrat on Wednesday, November 15, 2017.
Dear Chairman Small and the UNH Presidential Search Committee,
The ACLU of New Hampshire and the Seacoast NAACP continue to support, and be excited by, the University of New Hampshire’s search for its next president. Our primary interest remains in the selection of a new president experienced in and committed to promoting diversity and racial equity on campus.
We are writing at this time to encourage that the Board of Trustees and the search committee bring at least the top three candidates to UNH for final interviews and that those visits include opportunities for student, faculty, and staff input.
We understand that presidential search processes are notoriously secretive in order to provide a level of confidentiality and privacy for candidates. We ask that, in this case, the confidentiality desired and often granted to these candidates be weighed against the need for a more transparent and inclusive process that builds trust and communication within the university.
Last November, we wrote an open letter encouraging the UNH Board and search committee to consider seriously each candidate’s documented success in promoting diversity and inclusion in their previous positions. UNH has experienced multiple incidents of racial bias on campus over the past year, reminiscent of a similarly racially-charged time in the late 1990s. As a university, and as part of our community, UNH knows it has work to do to repair its reputation and to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus. We said then and reiterate now that the selection of a new president is one of the single greatest ways to right the direction of a campus and bring new vision.
As the state’s flagship university, and in response to concerns over racial bias on campus, UNH has a particular responsibility to ensure a transparent and inclusive search for its next president. This includes ensuring a role for students, faculty, and staff in making the final selection.
The search committee commendably held listening sessions at the early start of the search process. To be truly meaningful, however, student, faculty, and staff input must be sought and considered in the final selection process. Campus visits by the final candidates provide the best opportunities to solicit such input.
Many public universities from across the country include such public candidate forums in their presidential searches - from Castleton University in Vermont, to the University of Montana, Florida State University, and Iowa State University. While the forums vary in style, they all include a public opportunity for student participation.
We encourage this search committee to bring at least the final three candidates to campus for final interviews and that those visits include forums with students, faculty, and staff. Student town halls in particular provide an opportunity to extend invitations to all student organizations and associations, including the Black Students Union and Mosaico. Given some of the challenges facing UNH, it is important that students and organizations of color be given a voice during the search process.
We would ask that assessments from participating students, faculty, and staff be collected and included as a valued source of information in the Board of Trustee’s final selection. These stakeholders, particularly students, all have an invested interest in promoting diversity on campus and ensuring that UNH learns from the incidents of last year. They also can offer a unique perspective on candidates’ experience and commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion on campus.
We also would note that campus town halls can benefit the candidates, as well as the selection process. Such events can help recruit a candidate and build support for the eventual incoming president. Two-way communication between finalists and campus stakeholders provides the healthiest start for a new president, and the campus as it moves into a new phase.
A key priority for any incoming president, but particularly one joining a university in the wake of racial incidents, is building trust with students, faculty, and staff. It is our assessment that the more transparent and inclusive the final stages of the search process are, the more likely that the search will result in the kind of leadership and collaboration that can overcome past events, build trust amongst stakeholders, and truly elevate the status and effectiveness of UNH.
We look forward to the selection of a final candidate who is deeply committed to providing a valued education and experience to all students, including by improving racial equity on campus. We stand ready to support the new president in elevating UNH as a leader in diversity and inclusion, and in preparing graduates to be successful in a global workforce.
Devon Chaffee Executive Director ACLU of New Hampshire
Rogers J. Johnson