Ever since USD President James Abbott announced his retirement last fall, there has been a buzz around who will take his place. It was in January that an official search committee was created to find Abbott’s successor.
The committee consists of 18 people from a wide range of backgrounds. Ten of them are USD alumni, half are women and two are USD students, Josh Anderson and Taylor Gubbrud.
But when one looks at the academic background of the committee, an eyebrow should raise. The makeup of the search committee is as follows: three lawyers, two business people and a slew of academic and administrative experience. However, while there is a degree of diversity, when it comes to academics, things are a little more homogenous.
There is a lot of business, legal, and administrative background, but very little science or humanities. At the moment only two have scientific backgrounds, one of which actively does research and work in their field. The other is the president of Dakota State University who has a bachelors degree in physics.
That’s it. There are no chemists, doctors, mathematicians, media professionals, educators, sociologists and the list goes on. Of course, we can’t have everyone on the committee, but the current balance is off.
The two students are both political science majors. Gubbrud also double majors in economics, and Anderson double majors in business administration.
While there is no question that business and law must be represented — they are, after all, major components to USD — the rest of the academic community is missing.
Part of what makes USD a great university is the vast diversity of academic opportunities. We graduate future lawyers, doctors, but also chemists who do groundbreaking research like Frank Leibfarth. Those departments — including mathematics, biology, chemistry, just to name a few who are not represented on the committee — have a vested interest in who takes charge after Abbott.
Their interest is just as important as political science and business, but it seems to be absent from the search.
The next president needs to be able to work for all students, not just a few from select departments. Unfortunately, the current composition does not have the background or knowledge to know what a mathematics, fine arts or chemistry department needs, or what they look for in a university president.
The diversity of the search committee, while strong in many categories, such as business, administration, law and political science, all of which are important for a good president, but the committee lacks when it comes to variety in academic perspective.
Of course, that does not mean the committee will, by definition, make a poor choice. But it does reveal a weakness in the makeup. There should be a doctor from the medical school; there should be a scientist from a science department; there should be a journalist from the media & journalism department.
It’s too late to make changes, but it’s nonetheless important to raise this issue.
The committee, when making their decision, should therefore keep in the front of their minds the interests of those not present or underrepresented on the committee. A lot is at stake depending on who takes Abbott’s place.
The last thing we want is a president who doesn’t know or doesn’t understand the needs of scientific departments or other programs that aren’t the political science department or business school.
The search committee, though strong in many respects, does lack in academic diversity. It’s not a deal-breaker, but the next president must be able to lead all of USD, and that includes the people, departments and students not represented in the committee.