UW-Madison tweaks public notification process for job candidates to protect applicants

February 24, 2019 GMT

UW-Madison has changed the public notification process for job candidates in its latest high-profile search, moves the university said are needed to protect applicants’ confidentiality but which an open government advocate cautioned limit transparency.

The university narrowed the window of time that candidates’ names will be posted on the search committee’s web page and will post videos of candidates’ public presentations only on a password-protected website.

The changes apply to UW-Madison’s search for its next vice chancellor for research and graduate education, one of six vice chancellor positions that report directly to the chancellor.

The revamped process will likely be a blueprint for future searches, university spokesman John Lucas said. He said the “slightly modified” announcement process is open and transparent.

But “the time limit and the restricted access makes things less transparent, and I think that’s unfortunate,” Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council president Bill Lueders said.

At issue is the university’s need to balance transparency with the desire by applicants who do not want their name, and the fact that they’re actively seeking opportunities beyond their current position, so readily available on the internet.

“The thing that most candidates are concerned with is just not having it live forever and ever out on the internet,” Carol Kolb, the university’s administrative search coordinator, told the executive committee of the Faculty Senate in a meeting last week.

UW-Madison posted the name of the first finalist — Renee Reijo Pera, the vice president for research and economic development at Montana State University — online last Saturday morning, 48 hours before Pera came to campus for a public presentation Monday morning.

The two other candidates’ names will be released 48 hours before their public presentations scheduled for March 1 and March 5.

Candidate information will remain online until March 7, the conclusion of the feedback period, Lucas said.

He said the changes are to help the university receive the strongest applicant pool and follows the approach used by peer institutions.

Finalist names for searches at the University of Illinois-Chicago, the University of Kansas, and the University of Buffalo were released, respectively, two days, one day and just before candidate presentations.

At UW-Madison, those unable to attend the public presentations can watch the videos by logging in with their university credentials. Non-campus community members who want to watch the video are instructed to contact Kolb for access.

Kolb said the university has been “shrinking” the amount of time videos remain online after receiving complaints from candidates in past searches.

“This is kind of a test run to see how it’s all going to go, so we can polish it up before the provost search,” Kolb said to the executive committee members.

UW-Madison’s goal is to hire a new provost by fall to replace Sarah Mangelsdorf, who is leaving at the end of the academic year to become president of the University of Rochester.