EXCLUSIVE: Former top UH official raises questions about president search process
MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A veteran former University of Hawaii administrator who wanted to be UH president said she might still be a candidate for the job if the Board of Regents hadn't changed the rules during the search process.
Linda Johnsrud, a highly-respected academic, has left UH after a long career for a top job at a bigger university.
Johnsrud was the top academic officer in the UH system as provost for academic affairs and spent 25 years at the university.
After MRC Greenwood announced her plans to step down last year, Johnsrud said Board of Regents Chair John Holzman told her last June that whoever became interim UH president would not be considered for the permanent position.
"It was made clear that if I were the interim, I couldn't be a candidate for the permanent position, and so I declined being the interim," Johnsrud said.
At the time, the regents said allowing the interim president to be in the running for the permanent post would be seen as giving that person an unfair advantage.
But, in the end, David Lassner, the UH's chief information officer, was chosen by the regents as interim president and is now one of two finalists for the job.
The regents have said Lassner did not apply but was nominated by a group of UH deans and directors, claiming that doesn't conflict with the regents' edict that the interim wouldn't be eligible to apply for the permanent post.
"There was never any distinction made between applying and being a candidate. My understanding was that they felt that was just not appropriate," Johnsrud said.
Reached for reaction to Johnsrud's comments, a UH spokeswoman said in an email, "The selection committee's report to the board, which was released this past Saturday, addresses this issue and speaks for itself."
The 44-page report said that the selection committee "agreed that considering David Lassner as a nominated candidate did not conflict with the original intent that the interim president would not be eligible to apply for the position. Interim President President Lassner made it clear that he would be willing to serve if nominated and selected."
Johnsrud planned to apply for the permanent UH president job but said she was recruited by the University of Texas late last summer, and decided to take a position as associate vice chancellor for academic affairs for the UT system and moved to Austin to start that job in January. Her daughter and granddaughters live in Texas, so it was a chance to be closer to them, she said.
Johnsrud said in late March, she learned UH faculty members nominated her as UH president, but she declined to be included in the applicant pool.
Johnsrud said she understood if regents changed their minds about allowing the interim president to be considered for the permanent position.
"I think probably what has happened is over the course of the year, David has shown what a good job he has down as interim, and they don't want to lose him as a candidate. And I think he'll do a first-rate job as a president," Johnsrud said.
But when she saw that Lassner was allowed to compete for the permanent job as interim, she said, "For me personally, it's a disappointment. I would have liked to have had that opportunity. But these things evolve and I have no regrets about my decision. And I think the world of the university."
Last summer, Johnsrud said her advice to the regents was to appoint a senior UH administrator such as herself or Lassner for a short three-year term, giving time to calm things down following the year of turmoil after the cancellation of the Stevie Wonder concert. Johnsrud felt UH should have waited to begin a major search for a couple of years.
"Hopefully find a person that could settle the place down, regain the trust and the good working relationships that we've had in the past. And I would have loved to have been that person," Johnsrud said.
Johnsrud said she spoke to representatives of two national search firms last summer, after Greenwood announced her retirement, and they said many top applicants would stay away from UH after the tumultuous year full of bad publicity.
"The position is seen as volatile. One individual even said that he saw it as a dangerous presidency. And he meant dangerous to one's career," Johnsrud said, explaining why she thought last year was not a good time to launch a major search for a UH president.
She said she disagreed with the regents' concern last summer that allowing an interim president to compete for the permanent job was not a good idea.
"Interims bring a certain strength," Johnsrud said."They are a known commodity. People know your strengths and your weaknesses. When you look at external candidates, you know, it's a little bit harder to get a clear view of what they're going to be like."
"I would have loved to have ended my career as president of the University of Hawaii. After 25 years, the university had been really good to me. I grew up professionally at the university," Johnsrud added. "There will always be that feeling of darn, I would have liked to have had the opportunity."
Johnsrud was the chief academic officer in the UH system, which as approximately 59,288 students. Her new post at the University of Texas makes her the second top academic officer at a much larger system with about 230,000 students.
The regents have narrowed the search for the UH president to Lassner and retired Army General Frank Wiercinski, the former head of the Army in the Pacific. The two men are being featured at forums on some UH campuses across the state this week.
The regents expect to make a final decision on the president in June.
Click to read the UH Regents Committee on Presidential Selection report.
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