Mason BOV votes to support university community engagement with presidential finalists

Faculty, staff and students comment at the Presidential Search Committee meeting in the Hub Ballroom on the Fairfax Campus. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services.

The George Mason University Board of Visitors voted unanimously on Friday to grant Rector Tom Davis authority over what opportunities members of the university community will have to engage finalists vying to become Mason’s next president. 

The BOV measure included as an addendum a resolution passed by the presidential search committee earlier that afternoon. That action called for the BOV to “reaffirm upholding both the spirit and letter of the Faculty Handbook,” an assurance that Mason faculty and other university community members will have the opportunity to directly engage finalists for the president position.  

The search committee meeting, an open forum at which a dozen members of the Mason community addressed the committee, and BOV meeting occurred back-to-back in the Hub Ballroom. Approximately 75 people participated in the search committee meeting via Webex. 

Some search committee and BOV members had voiced concern that top candidates could withdraw from consideration to become Mason’s next president if their interest in the position were disclosed. Students, faculty and staff have said they want to be able to meet and question each finalist. Concentrating the authority in the rector to decide how candidates can be engaged enables the search to move more quickly once finalists have been determined. The BOV’s goal is to name the next president by the end of February, but it will take more time if necessary.  

“We all thought this was a step in the right direction in terms of letting us get to where we want to all get to, which is hiring the best person,” said Vice Rector Jimmy Hazel, co-chair of the search committee. 

“The key here is to try to make sure we have the best pool of applicants available, [and] that we protect identities if needed so that people wouldn’t jeopardize their other jobs by coming forward,” Davis said. 

In December, the Faculty Senate voted on recommendations for how they would like to engage finalists for the president position. They came up with three formats, in order of preference: A public forum with each finalist, smaller meetings with each finalist that might entail signing confidentiality agreements, and online conversations with anonymous finalists.

“I don’t see why we couldn’t do [online engagement] at a minimum, which the faculty has said by a narrow margin is acceptable,” Davis said. “My goal would be if we can go beyond that to try to go beyond that.”

The engagement opportunities would be open to faculty, staff and students.

“We’re all in this together,” Davis said. “Our destinies are intertwined.”

At the search committee meeting, search co-chair Shannon Davis, chair of the Faculty Senate, spoke of the importance of finalists having the opportunity to “meet their constituencies, those whose stories they will tell when they go into the broader community…and that we think about the value of having them meet us, which is as important as our meeting them.”