Appointing a university president is not an entirely ‘transparent’ process
At the university level, the free sharing of ideas is foundational while functional democratic transparency is “complex.” The Regional University System of Oklahoma’s process for choosing university presidents in privacy is more translucent than transparent.
RUSO policy states “that the Board exercises its control over the universities through the President of each university.” As for the board, eight of nine members are appointed by the governor. In choosing a president, committee members are appointed by RUSO. There is no political component except for the regent who is also the state superintendent of public instruction, Ryan Walters.
In a question of whether a system like this was democratic, UCO Dean of Education and Professional Studies Bryan Duke said, “I think specific approaches may not be inclusive of everything that is part of the system of that. So I can see where particular pieces of the system have processes that, when you pull out the lens, may not look so. But you really have to take a bigger picture of the whole. So I think there are almost case studies where you have to really look at, again, what the system allows for all of that process.”
“Bryan Duke has been a big help and advisor to me already,” said UCO President Todd Lamb.
“Integrity is critical,” Duke said. The free sharing of ideas and construction of knowledge “are essential. I mean, those are principles that should be foundational to a university.”
“Democracy is such a complex thing,” Duke said. “I think we can be realistic about the challenges inherent. And so you know, I think the university should reflect a democracy, it should promote these ideas and principles that allow us to have conversations again, to be uncomfortable to learn and grow. But always safe, and safe physically, safe psychologically. So that there are boundaries that are non-negotiables, that within this environment, while we have all of these rights and responsibilities, that we are kept from doing harm.”
When Lamb was asked about transparency, he said “sometimes you can’t give 100 percent full disclosure for really good reasons.”
Earlier this year, according to sources familiar with the events, the first committee meeting to select a new UCO president was a “process” meeting, going over how to be an advisory committee and what the process was going to be moving forward. Deliberation on candidates with the committee was not at the first meeting, only the second. All other deliberation was private among the board after that.
At the second meeting, committee members brought ranked lists of the candidates. They had a chance to advocate for their picks. The UCOSA member, representative of the student body, was not able to attend this meeting due to illness, but other committee members advocated for his point of view.
In a system of governance like RUSO, leaders are chosen by a board in private conversations after brief meetings with committees of chosen representatives.
Board member Susan Winchester’s past connection to Lamb, as chief of staff during his time serving as lieutenant governor, was not a conflict of interest as written in RUSO’s policy.
While policy states “Employees of RUSO and its universities should seek to avoid conflicts of interest at all times,” it goes on to state that “a conflict of interest arises whenever the employee has the opportunity to influence university operations or business decisions in ways that could result in a personal financial benefit to the employee or a member of an employee’s family (“family” shall be construed to be relatives by affinity or consanguinity within the first degree).”
Policy also states that “employees shall have a duty to disclose on an ongoing basis any current, proposed, or pending situations that may constitute a conflict of interest and should disclose the material facts relating to any conflict of interest as soon as the existence of a possible conflict of interest is known.”
Under these terms, Winchester and Lamb’s past does not constitute a conflict of interest because they are not related by blood in the first degree.