Why the University of Minnesota’s New President is Not a Current University President

In the same week that President George H. W. Bush is being rightfully revered for his modesty, it’s in questionable taste for me to start any blog by saying, “I told you so.”  But in the matter of my predicting (“Why Eric Kaler’s Successor Will be a Rookie,” September 19) that the new University of Minnesota president would not previously have served as a college or university president, I told you so.

This takes nothing away from the talent and accomplishments of Joan Gabel and her certain appointment.  I wish her great success.  The point to be made, rather, is that anyone who is upset that the Board of Regents, once again, had only one finalist to choose from needs to reconcile to a fundamental fact of top-tier higher education life: Very few, if any, sitting presidents of other universities are willing to be embarrassed and seriously weakened on their home campuses if they were to publicly come in second or third in another university’s search for a new leader.  Given this inescapable dynamic, it is not the least bit surprising that University of South Carolina Provost Joan Gabel will be a presidential rookie when she takes office.

If in another presidential search ten years or so down the road, Regents want to consider more than one finalist, with at least one of them being a then-current president serving elsewhere, total secrecy in their deliberations will be required till the end.  Would such an approach run counter to a strong ethos of openness in Minnesota and, thus, keenly unlikely to happen?  Obviously.