A lack of transparency

A look into the search for Eisler’s successor

President Eisler plays clarinet alongside the athletic pep band as they cheer on the Ferris State hockey team in their game against the Broncos. Photo by: Amelia Reed | Torch Photographer

A disconnect between faculty and administration persists as the committee searching for President Eisler’s successor is bound to a non-disclosure agreement.  

By signing the NDA, Search Advisory Committee members accept the position offered by Chair Amna Seibold of the Board of Trustees. Everything covered by the document is to be viewed as a matter of both personal responsibility and legal obligation. 

The NDA states that all members of the SAC will protect the identity of and information regarding all prospects and candidates. Any “general or specific opinions” declared by SAC members are also strictly confidential. 

Members of the SAC are expected to withhold information regarding all prospects and candidates that is not “generally known to the public” after the search is completed. Once the final candidate is selected, only information approved by the university may be released.  

Brandy Vanderhovel, UniServ Director of the Michigan Education Association, obtained a virtual copy of the NDA through a Freedom of Information Act request dated Sept. 9, 2021. This request was fulfilled twenty days later.  

Ferris Faculty Association President Charles Bacon discussed the contents of the NDA at a board meeting last Tuesday.  

“No one had ever seen [an NDA] so restrictive in their experience. Seems like Amna doesn’t want anyone looking under the hood,” Bacon said. 

Because SAC members are not permitted to speak to any publication outlet about the search, media requests are to be sent to the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees has yet to comment to the Torch regarding this story.  

Karen Huisman, assistant to the president and secretary to the Board of Trustees, directed communication to Sandy Gholston. Gholston, who works as co-chair of Ferris’ social media team, stated that NDAs are commonplace in the hiring process. 

“When searching for a senior-level executive, such as a university president, it is common to have a non-disclosure agreement to attract the best people and largest pool of candidates,” Gholston said.  

Still, FFA member Holly Price is suspicious of the NDA and the lateness of the search.  

“I would advise my colleagues and students not to sign [the NDA] until it can be reviewed by an attorney. The FFA has an attorney who we intend to seek input from on this matter,” Price said.  

The intended purpose of the NDA and importance of confidentiality are described in the document. 

“I understand maintaining the strict confidentiality of this information is necessary to attract high quality prospects and candidates, to avoid putting their current positions in jeopardy, and to protect the integrity of such individuals as well as that of Ferris State University…,” it reads. 

Price believes that if the SAC’s priority is to protect candidates from losing their current jobs, the restrictions should be limited to applicant privacy. 

Bacon first referred to the SAC’s “lack of transparency” in response to a resolution dated May 7, 2021. This document described the SAC’s formation and delegation. 

According to the resolution, the Board of Trustees appointed itself to serve as the Presidential Search Committee following Eisler’s retirement announcement in March. The Executive Committee of the PSC was tasked with arranging a complete process for conducting the search, including the composition of the SAC. 

“The Search Advisory Committee is comprised of 25 members from campus and communities representing many different constituencies,” Gholston said. “They will assist in the review of applicants, help determine which applicants will be brought in for interviews and make hiring recommendations to the Board of Trustees.”  

The PSC may introduce any additional contracts to the SAC that they deem necessary in the search, such as confidentiality agreements. 

According to a letter from within the FFA, Bacon was initially displeased with an imbalance in the SACs makeup. While the Academic Senate was granted three spots on the committee, one out of the five FFA members recommended by Bacon would be included. Seibold acknowledged this disparity and expressed her willingness to resolve it. 

“I explained that the FFA leadership is the only faculty representation elected at large, and the only association capable of representing the collective bargaining agreement,” Bacon said.  

Gholston stated that the presidential search is set to finish prior to Eisler’s retirement date of June 30, 2022. When asked to comment on Eisler’s potential future as a tenured member of Ferris’ music department, Gholston disclosed that the details of the president’s retirement “have not been finalized.”