A quick, semi-speculative presidential search analysis

I’ve had a few gut feelings about the presidential search in the last week or so. As a matter of logistics and being prepared to break the story, I’m stuck speculating (we have been all semester, I’m looking at you SEC…) about will happen next. Just what will those darn curators do now?

For months the search has been veiled in this secretive, elaborate web of public notices and closed meetings. We know virtually nothing about any candidates or their qualifications — not even very good rumors — and up until now we’ve never had any idea when a new president might be announced.

But suddenly, I can see the light.

The Board of Curators has passed a list of an undisclosed (surprise) number of finalists to an advisory committee made up of representatives from all walks of academic life at all four UM System campuses.

That’s all fine and dandy, but what that means for us [reporters, the media, et al] is that now that the list of finalists is out and about, there is in fact a timeline for an announcement.

It may be subtle and certainly unintentional, but there are 20 members on the advisory committee. That means there’s upwards of 30+ people (including the curators and involved UM System admins) who know the remaining candidates — and likely know who the front-runner is — spread across the state.

Of course they’re all bound to secrecy, but the curators must understand that the longer they wait with this many people in the know, the higher the risk that one person drops one clue that just happens to make sense to the one reporter who hears it who is able to connect it and figure out the candidate. No matter how far-fetched, it could happen. And the curators have taken such care to be so secret, it would seem there’s no way they’d allow that much risk this late in the game.

I’ve been embedded in this story since the beginning of this semester. So when board Chairman Warren Erdman tells me that the curators will receive the advisory committee’s report Thursday afternoon, I understand that the curators will have two executive sessions (those are the closed-door, private meetings) to discuss the matters at their regularly scheduled meetings this week — all before the normally scheduled press conference Friday morning.

Read for yourself part of the email exchange I had with UM Spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead this afternoon. Sometimes the raw answers and context can be more telling than just the parts that make it into my story.

I don’t know about the other news outlets, but I’m letting my colleagues at the Missourian know they’re all on call Friday morning — because I think we’re going to have a new UM System president before this week is out.

I’ll be keeping things updated on my Twitter, @zach_murdock, following Tuesday’s advisory committee meeting and all day Thursday and Friday when the board meets in full at UMSL. Stay tuned to Twitter and columbiamissourian.com for the latest in UM System president news.

Developing stories

It seems that nearly everything I’m working on is a developing story this week.

Not in any kind of conclusive way either — it looks like nearly all of the subjects I’ve been covering are going to keep on rolling right through November.

Here’s a basic breakdown of the issues I’m following (including links to my most recent work on each):

  • The UM System presidential search: curators have met in closed session twice in the past two weeks, once in Kansas City and again St. Louis. Both meetings were held behind closed doors, and the curators will meet in executive session again Thursday night via teleconference. UM spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead confirmed curators met with candidates in St. Louis and that the search committee hopes to have a small group of finalists in the next few weeks.
  • Performance funding: MU Faculty Council will again discuss performance funding models and their implications for MU at Thursday’s meeting. Council members have been critical of a proposed performance-based funding model and it seems Nikki Krawitz hopes to quell their fears and talk about the specifics of the plan before making her presentation of the model at the fall semester general faculty meeting Nov. 16.
  • Retirement plan and academic freedom: these two get lumped together because they’re two developing issues that have had some serious chatter. The Board of Curators recently approved a new retirement plan, but there’s still lots of work to be done and I hope to stay on top of it as I become an advanced reporter this spring. The proposed academic freedom policy is a hotly debated issue and MU’s Faculty Council butted heads on whether it goes too far or not far enough — and the debate is far from over.
  • SEC and academics: this is a good story I have up my sleeve, but is still in its infancy. I won’t talk about the details here, but with the help of Jacqui Banaszynski, I think I’ve got a strong footing to get this story rolling to quickly follow up on the *almost-certainly* pending MU/SEC announcement.

As things continue to develop I’ll try to keep things updated on the blog. As I receive information, I do my best to make it available on my personal Twitter, @zach_murdock, (and it will often make the @CoMissourian Twitter feed too) so follow along on Twitter for the latest news and highlights.

Clever Curator Consonance

Still confused about exactly what happened at the UM System Board of Curators meeting last week? That’s OK, so are all of the sports reporters (just kidding, though all the important news was reserved for us higher education writers).

Last week was a regularly scheduled board meeting that once again got the sports spotlight treatment, even though meeting included so much more than conference realignment.

The board met behind closed doors Wednesday and Thursday night to discuss the presidential search and again all afternoon Thursday to cover a ton of information points and action items. The board voted to approve a much-debated retirement plan, renovations to the MU campus and a new athletic training degree program.

In the end though, everything was overshadowed by the press conference Friday. Board Chairman Warren Erdman made two announcements — first, that the board would produce a group of system presidential finalists to their advisory committee (the hot news I was there to cover), and second that the board had chosen to give Deaton all the power he needs to change MU’s conference affiliation.

I know and understand (both as a reporter and a fan) that the sports story is unbelievably big deal, but the way the conference realignment announcements have overshadowed the other vitally important things the curators are doing is a little frustrating.

Nonetheless, I had a great time reporting the meetings and spending time with education and sports reporters alike.

Much like the Oct. 4 curators meeting in St. Louis, I split my time reporting and live-tweeting the meetings, this time with a mix of personal and Missourian twitter accounts.

I felt much more comfortable operating CoTweet to publish tweets from the Missourian’s Twitter accounts, and published 19 tweets over the course of three days (plus many more from my personal account). Nine of those came as general updates about the curators meetings from @CoMissourian, and another 10 from @CoMoSports during Friday’s press conference.

To keep things flowing over the multiday meetings we chose to tie together all the tweets relating to the curators with the hashtag: #umcurators. That way folks who were genuinely following along could search the hashtag to find all of the relevant tweets and see the chronology of the meetings.

Plus the content of what I was tweeting was infinitely more effective than the last time I live-tweeted the curators, and the number of retweets proves that people found the information valuable. Although I would have loved to see more engagement with @CoMissourian during the meetings, perhaps the folks most interested — and that have the most questions or concerns — about the retirement plan aren’t exactly of the Twitter generation (which is admittedly an unfair assumption, because there are lots of older adults on Twitter and lots of younger folks concerned about retirement plans).

Regardless, the week was full of steps forward: for my tweeting skills, for the presidential search, and for (apparently) the future of MU’s conference affiliation.

Curators and conferences

I’m in Kansas City today and Friday at the UM System Board of Curators meetings at UMKC.

There’s a lot of speculation surrounding a couple of big topics — namely the UM presidential search and conference realignment — and I’ll be blogging, writing and tweeting live as things develop throughout the day.

The curators meet in full this afternoon and tomorrow morning, and are scheduled to have big discussions during Finance and Audit committee meetings before entering a regularly scheduled, full-board (quorum) executive session scheduled for 3:45 p.m.

Regarding conference realignment, UM System Spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead told me this morning:

“The curators are not expected to discuss conference realignment, at least for today. Let’s just take it one day at a time.”

After a short press conference following open-session meetings tomorrow morning, the board will again enter a regularly scheduled executive session. Hollingshead said the curators will not be holding an additional press conference following the session and will not make statements on the content of the meeting.

In addition, no announcement will be made regarding the status of the board’s search for a new UM president.

Follow @zach_murdock, @CoMissourian and the #umcurators hashtag for the most up to date information about the meetings.