Over the past several weeks much has been said and written about the search for a new president for the University of the District of Columbia--and much of it has been unfair, inaccurate and unnecessarily focused on dissident views. These are the facts:
The search for a university president is clearly the most important and difficult task that confronts any university board of trustees. It is difficult because one person must be chosen from among so many highly qualified individuals; yet it is rewarding when at last the individual emerges who embodies the experience, character, vision and strength necessary to lead UDC in the '80s. Such has been the case for UDC's search committee and its selection of Benjamin H. Alexander.
I have been involved in public higher education in the District since 1977, when I was appointed to the founding board of UDC and elected its first chairman. When Lisle C. Carter announced his intention to leave the university presidency, I was asked by Marjorie H. Parker, the present chairman of the board of trustees, to head the search committee to find a new president. In December 1980, a broad-based committee was appointed by Dr. Parker that included the chairman of UDC's first search committee, the president of the Student Government Association, the president of the Alumni Association, the president of the Faculty Senate and four members of the board of trustees.
Our first meeting was on Feb. 18, 1981. From then through March of this year we conducted a thorough national search, meeting as a full committee for some 17 deliberative sessions. More than 90 candidates responded to our solicitation of applications. With so many capable people responding, we had to develop a process that would be fair, open and yet specifically geared to UDC's needs. We established criteria, based on two major documents developed with significant input from all elements of the university: a university master plan and the board's self-study.
The basic standards were: 1) a terminal degree or its equivalent; 2) quality scholarship and research; 3) higher education administrative experience; 4) working knowledge of the political structure; and 5) experience with government and private funding sources.
These criteria guided our deliberations throughout. Every round produced frank discussion of the relative merits of each candidate. At the end of the third round, we had narrowed the field to 11, including six college presidents and a number of nationally known, highly respected individuals.
Dr. Alexander was a major contender throughout the search process. He had emerged as a strong administrator, a talented and successful president of an urban public university not unlike UDC and a creditable scholar.
After a 7-to-1 committee vote to recommend the appointment of Dr. Alexander to the board, we took the final and customary step of a site visit to the Chicago State campus to meet with faculty, student and administrative representatives of the university community. Following that visit by a team of four members of the search committee, I personally polled each committee member on how we should proceed. All but one of our eight committee members indicated strong support for the earlier committee decision to recommend Dr. Alexander.
From all indications from critics and friends alike, Dr. Alexander has reshaped the future of Chicago State. Since 1974, by the force of his personality, his even-handedness and his educational philosophy, he has produced a quality urban university.
Dr. Alexander also has his detractors, as do most who have been strong and committed enough to make a real contribution to urban higher education. But even these attacks seem to grow faint when you ask the central question: what do we want educationally for our young men and women today--excuses, or results? I am confident that our search process has been thorough and fair and that we have indentified a man who possesses the toughness, vision and sensitivity to shape a public higher education system of which we can all be proud. The university community and this great city deserve no less.