November 28, 2000

S.A. Criticizes Dean Search

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Members of the Student Assembly are finding fault with the administration’s composition of the Engineering Dean Search Committee, which is charged with finding a replacement for John E. Hopcroft, the J. Silbert Dean of Engineering, whose term ends in June. According to S.A. President Uzo Asonye ’02, S.A. Vice President Mark Greenbaum ’02 and others, the committee lacks representation from a vital constituency: students.

Asonye and Greenbaum met with University Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin in October and urged the administration to allow student representation on the search committee.

“We requested that students should be allowed because we have student-elected trustees and because students serve on committees at every level of this University,” Asonye said, adding that Martin seemed receptive to the idea.

But three weeks ago, the provost told them the administration would not allow students on the committee.

“It is not typical for deans’ search committees to include students,” Martin said. She did stress, however, that the administration plans to include students in the process, for it considers student involvement “essential.”

In October, Prof. Mike Shuler, chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering, met with students in the Engineering Student Leadership Council (ESLC) to discuss student input in the selection and get feedback for the committee.

“I asked them for candidate nominations and they supplied me with two,” Shuler said, who felt that the committee would benefit most from student input when evaluating the final candidates.

After the committee compiles a short list of candidates in February, it will schedule meetings between the candidates and graduate and undergraduate engineering students, according to Martin.

While maintaining that the administration must seek out students’ views on the candidates, Hopcroft agrees that it is not necessary to include students on the committee.

“Students should certainly have some input of some form, but I don’t believe that every constituency has to be represented on the search committee,” he said. “The difficulty lies in how students might actually represent other students. I don’t see how students on the committee would get input from [all engineering undergraduates].”

“I believe that the Engineering Dean Search Committee has made valid efforts to involve students in the process through the ESLC,” said ESLC President Regina Clewlow ’01. “If we meet with faculty members of the committee and tell them exactly what we think about each candidate, our opinion is out there. Regardless of if they had wanted to listen to us, when they consider a candidate, they’ll probably remember what the students said, whether it was very positive or negative.”

Other engineering students have mixed reactions as to whether students belong on the committee. John Deverna ’02 felt that the administration should allow them because “it’s pointless” to have students meet with candidates “if that doesn’t have any impact on [the ultimate decision].”

Stephen Bernal ’01 doubted that students could play an effective role on the committee. “We deserve to have a right to have a say, but I don’t know how qualified we are to evaluate the potential performance of a particular person against another person,” he said.

But Asonye claimed that the administration’s proposed mechanism for involving undergraduates in the dean selection does not effectively “ensure the true student voice” will influence the final decision.

“Students will get a better feel for the process if they are on the committee, and in order to give really valuable input, they have to be involved throughout the entire process,” he said. “If they come in midway through, they don’t get to see and influence the process.”

“By continuing to preserve their policy of zero student representation on search committees, the administration questions the intelligence and credibility of Cornell’s students, which I believe is wrong,” Greenbaum said, noting that “nearly all” of the other Ivy League institutions allow student representation on search committees. He cited Princeton University’s search committee for a new president as an example.

Bob Rawson, chair of the executive committee of the Princeton University Board of Trustees and of the search committee, explained that the broad composition of the committee, which includes two undergraduates, “is intended to include a variety of perspectives and voices as we seek a new president.”

“I can tell you that the students are playing an active role and all voices are being heard and valued,” said Lisa Lazarus, a Princeton junior serving on the committee.

According to senior P.J. Kim, president of Princeton’s Undergraduate Student Assembly, the Princeton administration includes students on most of its searches. “This is a logical extension of the principles of an institution of higher learning whose emphasis is on serving students,” Kim said.

At Cornell, the administration maintains that student input will be included in the selection process.

“The search committee will solicit and weigh carefully the opinions of the students who take part in the interview process,” Martin said.

However, some students are not satisfied with this promise and plan to continue the push to establish student input earlier in the selection process.

Archived article by Ken Meyer