Big Decisions: The Process is the Most Important Product
In my hometown of Rochester there is a brouhaha raging around the selection of a new president for the Monroe County Community College. MCC is one of the most highly respected community colleges in the US and the retiring president, Tom Flynn gets a lot of credit for leading the institution. The former Chairperson of the MCC Board, Lori Van Dusen chartered two selection committees to evaluate candidates for the position: one made up of faculty and student representatives, the other made up of members of the community from business, government, healthcare and non-profits. The MCC Board of Trustees includes several prominent members of the Republican Party. The Republicans hold the office of the County Executive and a majority in the County Legislature. As the selection committees were getting to work, the Board asked that two names be included on the list for consideration: one an attorney and former long-time County Legislator, the other a successful entrepreneur, with party affiliations, who teaches at the University of Rochester and had been a candidate for president of another community college not far from here.
All this would sound fairly straightforward. The selection committees did their work and narrowed down their lists of candidates. When each announced their recommendations, two incumbent community college presidents, one from New Jersey and the other from New York, made the cut. Each committee had come to the same conclusion. Then things went off the rails.
The Board of Trustees voted to re-enter the names of their two Republican party affiliated candidates despite the findings of the selection committees. Cries of “cronyism” went up. The Chairperson, Van Dusen resigned in protest. Faculty, students and other citizens shouted at community meetings that the Board was acting as a tool of the Republican political leaders, attempting to by-pass the process and put their own man in the job. The head of the Rochester Business Alliance and another local executive who had served on one of the selection committees wrote an Op-Ed piece arguing that the process should be honored and that the Board risked the reputation of MCC as well as the ability to raise money for its foundation if it continued to press for its own candidates over the ones put forward by the committees.
At this point, the new Chairperson, Richard Guon has postponed interviews for the two party affiliated candidates. One Board member, a defense attorney named, John Parinello, who ran unsuccessfully for Mayor in the last election, has asked to have the entire selection process restarted. He wrote a 17 point letter to Guon in which he questions the legitimacy and sincerity of the process. Follow all that?
Who decides and what process will be used to decide? That is the fundamental question that appears not to have been settled at the outset. Because the Board did not get fully aligned on the selection process, it now looks like the process will not produce the desired outcome. At issue here is not only who will be the next President of a local institution that is important to the educational and economic future of the area, but also the legitimacy of that person’s administration. Whatever happens next, the community’s confidence in the objectivity and effectiveness of the Board of Trustees will probably take a hit.
Good governance must promote alignment on the purpose of a decision and the process that will be used is the most important product for a governing body such as a board. A good process ensures a good outcome. A bad process ensures problems and mess.