2 Finalists Drop Out From UW-Whitewater Chancellor Search

Faculty Have Raised Concerns About UW System Leaders Limiting Campus Input During Selection Process

UW Whitewater campus sign
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Two of four finalists in the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s search for a new chancellor have withdrawn amid faculty concerns about how UW System administrators have run the selection process.

On Thursday, the UW System announced Phillip K. Way withdrew as a finalist one day before a meeting of a special committee of UW Board of Regents tasked with selecting the next chancellor. Way is a provost and vice president for academic and student affairs at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania who was also listed as a finalist in February for a chancellor position at Indiana University South Bend.

Way’s departure came a week after finalist Guiyou Huang dropped out of the UW-Whitewater chancellor running. Huang who was listed as chancellor at Louisiana State University of Alexandria has since taken a job as president of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.

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UW System spokesman Mark Pitsch wouldn’t comment on the candidates’ withdrawal from the search.

Faculty at UW-Whitewater have raised questions about the selection process in an open letter. It says UW Board of Regents policy changes in 2015 and 2017 have marginalized the role of faculty and other stakeholders in choosing the next campus leader. It also accused UW leaders of not being transparent with faculty or listening to suggestions about extending the process.

“The message is clear that meaningful campus input during the selection of the next UW-Whitewater Chancellor is not valued or wanted by UW-System or the Board of Regents,” the letter said.

It also notes that one of the two remaining finalists, Cheryl Green, was not originally allowed to apply for the chancellor position. On Dec. 21, 2018 an email from UW System President Ray Cross to UW-Whitewater employees named Green as interim-chancellor with the caveat that “Interim Chancellor Green will not be eligible to apply for the permanent position.”

On March 13, Cross reversed course in a letter sent to members of the chancellor search committee that said he had consulted with a “diverse group of stakeholders” and decided that Green would be allowed to apply for the permanent position.

The open letter from faculty members said they were not consulted in that decision.

“The perception that UW-System President Ray Cross is ‘making up rules as he goes’ elevates concerns that the selection of UW-Whitewater’s next chancellor is actually in the hands of one or two people and not the broader body of UW-Whitewater students, staff, faculty, alumni and local community members,” the letter said.

David Simmons, chair of UW-Whitewater’s faculty senate, told WPR while he doesn’t know why finalists Way and Huang decided to pull out of the chancellor search, the timing and unprecedented speed of the process could have contributed.

“All of these factors together have raised questions that have gone unanswered about the process and I hope that the regents have considered the possibility that the interim chancellor be allowed to continue in her capacity as interim and possibly start the search again in the fall,” Simmons said.

Requests for comment on questions raised by faculty were not immediately returned by UW System officials.

Nicholas Fleisher, a professor at UW-Milwaukee and chair of the Wisconsin conference of the American Association of University Professors, said AAUP and UW-Milwaukee’s faculty senate signaled support for more campus representation on the Whitewater chancellor search committee. He called the campus a test case for the new regent policy giving state administration more control over the selection process.

“The regents always had the final say on who would be offered the chancellor position but in the old process there was a sharing in which the search committee, which had good faculty representation, came up with the list of finalists and then the regents voted on who they wanted to offer the job to,” Fleisher said. “Now, under the new system, the regents have taken over the entire process. And so, having taken over the entire process, they also own the results.”

The UW-Whitewater chancellor search follows the abrupt resignation of former chancellor Beverly Kopper amid an investigation into multiple complaints from campus employees and students that her husband sexually harassed them.