The Search Committee issues a statement on Presidential Search

John Dockerill

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Statement on Presidential Search

In view of recent comments from staff and students of the University, I am writing on behalf of the Search Committee to clarify the search process which has been adopted in the search for the new President. The University Ordinance stipulates that the appointment of the President is the responsibility of the Council. Accordingly, the Council established a Search Committee in late 2005 with terms of reference which called for the Committee to undertake a comprehensive search and to make a final recommendation to Council for appointment. The constitution of the Committee was approved by the Council and comprised the Council Chairman, four external members of the Council, three members elected by the Senate which is the supreme academic body of the University, and one staff member elected by all regular full-time staff of the University. The President of the Students' Union serves on the Search Committee as an observer and is free to express any views and also ask questions directly to the candidates. Such a composition ensured that input from the various sectors of the University community would be taken into account in the conduct of the search.

In agreeing the procedure for the Search, the Committee followed best international practice which included the appointment of a search consultant and maintaining strict confidentiality in the conduct of the search. All members and others involved in the process were required to abide by a set of “House Rules” which, in particular, required that no one should disclose the names of the candidates or the content of the Committee’s discussions outside the meeting.

The search for a President cannot be compared with the appointment of other staff within the University who, in general, seek an appointment through the normal application process. The purpose of a presidential search is to attract the best possible candidates on the basis of an international search. Hence, in most instances, it is the University which is seeking to persuade candidates to be considered for the post. It is the experience of universities worldwide that the best candidates will only be willing to be considered if the process is kept strictly confidential.

The process commenced in earnest with the issue of an advertisement which stated clearly the qualities and attributes required of the candidate (attached) . The position was widely advertised worldwide in the newspapers and journals and an invitation for nominations was sent to around 200 major universities in the world. The Search exercise attracted many applications and nominations and the Search Consultant also sourced some well qualified candidates. The Search Committee, after 9 months' work on the search process, with due input from the members and the observer, has come to the final stage of narrowing down the search to the final shortlist after two rounds of interviews.

Following the practice in the previous search, the Committee has decided to arrange for the final candidates each to meet with a group of staff and a group of students for their further input. In order to provide an opportunity for better interaction and exchanges between the participants and the candidate, it has been agreed to keep each group to a manageable size, with a range of 20 to 25. After the meetings, each group will send a representative to report their views to the Search Committee.

The Search Committee has learned that the Students’Union is planning to organize an open forum on 13th February in conjunction with the Staff Association (SA) and CUPA and to invite the “two candidates” to talk about their visions for the University. We would like to stress that until today, neither the Council nor the Search Committee has received any requests for a forum to be organized for all staff to meet with the candidates. The Chairman of the Search Committee had a private conversation with the SA Chairman, who is also the elected staff member on the Search Committee, regarding the proposed forum to be jointly organized by SU, SA and CUPA. The Chairman of the SA offered to organize a meeting for his fellow members of the SA Executive, and a few staff members who suggested the open forum, with the Search Committee who would listen to their views on the search. The Committee Chairman has agreed to his proposal but later learned that the SA Chairman's proposal had been turned down by his fellow ExeCo members.

The Search Committee has recently also discussed whether it should organize an open forum for the candidates. As a matter of fact, we are not aware of any precedent cases among the universities in Hong Kong that in a Presidential Search, an open forum would be organized by the Search Committee for the candidates to meet with all staff and students before the appointment is recommended. As pointed out earlier, there is high sensitivity and delicacy involved in the search for a President and the process for a Presidential Search has to be kept strictly confidential since the candidates the University is pursuing would not want to expose their identities before the final decision is made. It has been discussed by the Search Committee that having the candidates to meet staff and students in a public forum would not be an appropriate step in the search process. This view is held strongly by the senior academics serving on the Search Committee. If such an open forum is held, it would have a serious implication on the future recruitment process for the position of the President and undoubtedly will place considerable difficulty in the ability of the University to attract highly qualified candidates.

It should be reiterated that the responsibility for the Search lies squarely with the Council and the Search Committee has been duly constituted and appointed to carry out the duties of conducting the search in a proper manner that can enable it to make a recommendation to the Council.

The Committee will take into account the views of the staff and students in finalizing its recommendation. The Committee with the assistance of the student observer and the SU President, has been considering how best to form the student group since the University has a student population over 25,000. The Committee is expecting to receive a list of 15 to 20 students proposed by the SU and CUPA. Two members of the Convocation will also join this group. In relation to the staff group, the Search Committee decided that it should consist of 7 senior staff drawn from the Management Board and 16 frontline staff randomly selected from major bodies in the University (2 from SA Executive, 2 from administrative/general staff, 2 from the College, 2 from FB, 2 from FHS, 3 from FSE, 1 from SLW, 1 from SCM and 1 from BST, CCIV, ELC and SCOPE). The two group meetings are scheduled for the morning of the 26th February.

The Committee wishes to emphasise that it welcomes views and opinions from students and staff. Throughout the entire search process, all members and the student on the Committee have contributed and participated fully in the deliberation at every stage of the process.

John Dockerill

Secretary of the Search Committee for the President

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