The leader of a committee searching for ECU’s new chancellor has met with potential candidates for the job in the weeks leading up to the official screening process, which begins Monday.
Vern Davenport, chairman of both the chancellor search committee and ECU’s Board of Trustees, said last week he was met with “a number” of individuals who expressed interest in the chancellor’s position. The meetings were proper, he said, because the individuals weren’t official applicants.
The application deadline for the chancellor’s position was March 16, the day before East Carolina University and other institutions in the UNC System announced dorms would be closing. The search committee will discuss how to proceed with the reviewing and meeting with formal applicants when members meet on Monday. Navigating the process through the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to factor heavily at the 4:30 p.m. meeting at the East Carolina Heart Institute.
Davenport, speaking Thursday, responded to questions about text messages between him and other trustees about meeting with a potential candidate. ECU released the text messages at the request of The Daily Reflector. Davenport declined to say how many people he’s met with.
In at least one instance, Davenport and Trustee Fielding Miller tried arranging a dinner meeting with themselves, Trustee Angela Moss and a potential candidate. Neither Miller or Moss are members of the search committee. Moss said she couldn’t attend the dinner.
Davenport said the texts with Miller and Moss didn’t violate a confidentiality agreement search committee members had to sign because the individual had not applied for the position. The texts did identify a potential candidate, but the name was redacted from documents released by ECU last week.
“We have asked everybody in Pirate Nation, and everybody who’s associated in some form or fashion with East Carolina University, that if they know of someone who they think would be interested in the job, or if they want to refer someone to the job, to please do so,” Davenport said.
Until the application period closed March 16, “The idea of me talking to someone about my interest in them doing the job or their interest in the job is fair game,” Davenport said. “Once they get into the process, they officially become an applicant, then there is a very rote process where everybody has to be treated the exact same way and we entered that process on Monday the 16th.”
The agreement signed by search committee members required them to share no information about the candidates and to disclose any personal or business interests that “may create or appear to create” a conflict of interest.
Davenport has repeatedly stressed the necessity of confidentiality during the search process.
During a Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, Davenport said prospective candidates are concerned about “the confidentiality of their name being protected as we go through the process.”
“It is unfair to prospective candidates for them to have any concerns or fears whatsoever that if they were to submit their names for the opportunity, that somehow one of us on the board or one of us on the search committee in an intentional or unintentional way leak their name,” Davenport said.
Davenport said Thursday there have been instances of employers replacing candidates when it was discovered they had interviewed at another institution.
How candidate confidentiality will be maintained is one of the topics the search committee meeting will discuss at its Monday meeting, Davenport said.
Committee members are being encouraged to participate virtually through a web link or conference call due to COVID-19 concerns. Davenport said individuals with ECU and general administration are discussing how to proceed in regard to virus restrictions.
It’s traditional to interview finalists in person and to bring them to campus. Whether this can be done and what would be a viable alternative are questions the search committee must weigh, Davenport said.
“We obviously want to continue the work of the search. We’d like to continue it in the traditional manner, but we might have to adjust that,” Davenport said.
The goal is to have a new chancellor in place when the fall 2020 semester classes begin Aug. 24.
The initial plan was for the committee to review the applicants and choose several finalists for interviews. The committee would recommend at least two finalists to the Board of Trustees, who would then forward at least two finalists to UNC System Interim President Bill Roper, who would present his pick to the UNC Board of Governors for approval.
“We obviously had face-to-face interviews that we had scheduled to do and the time frame of that is within this lock-down period,” Davenport said, “so, there is going to have to be some adjustments, but I haven’t made any decisions.”
When the committee begins discussions about individual candidates, Davenport said previous meetings he or other may have had with candidates will not unfairly influence the process.
“When we get into the process of the committee work, and I can’t speak to anybody that is an applicant, but let’s say we’re talking to 100 applicants and we are trying to distill them down to the ones we want to interview formally,” Davenport said.
“There are going to be relationships with some of those candidates that members of the search committee may have. So a member of the search committee may have recommended someone, may have nominated someone to apply. That (committee member), I’m sure, is going to advocate for that candidate while discussing the entire pool.”