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EDITORIAL: Don’t turn Ivy Tech president search into charade

February 13, 2016

Sometimes, the power structure in Indianapolis doesn’t seem to buy into the value of conducting a wide-open, national search to fill key positions.

When Allison Melangton opted to step aside at the Indiana Sports Corp. in 2014, the board there tapped Ryan Vaughn—then Mayor Greg Ballard’s chief of staff—as her successor rather than publicly announce it was seeking a new president.

Last year, when Indy Chamber officials learned that arts and education executive Steven Stolen was available, they didn’t hire him to fill a position. They created a position in order to hire him. He started last fall as vice president of corporate advancement.

This is no knock on Vaughn or Stolen, who both have impressive resumes and deep ties in the community—skills they can leverage to succeed in their new positions. But it’s also true that, unless an organization fully commits itself to a national search, there’s no telling who might have applied. Talent from elsewhere can invigorate our community with new ideas, as well as bolster its diversity.

This is a relevant time to reflect on past hiring practices because the state of Indiana soon will be making a critical hire—the new president of Ivy Tech Community College.

It’s hard to overstate the challenges Ivy Tech’s next leader will face. Ivy Tech operates 32 campuses across Indiana serving 200,000 students. It’s a critical pathway for Hoosiers seeking to gain the skills that will allow them to land good-paying jobs.

Unfortunately, far too many students enroll but drop out, and a recent report from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education found Ivy Tech’s graduation rates are far below the nationwide average for community college students.

Fortunately, a strong candidate is in the wings. Thanks to the bizarre machinations in the Governor’s Office, Sue Ellspermann is stepping aside as lieutenant governor, and Gov. Mike Pence has strongly endorsed her for the Ivy Tech job.

Ellspermann’s credentials are indeed impressive. The Ferdinand native has bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in engineering. Before entering politics, she worked in industry and founded her own consulting firm.

Ellspermann certainly warrants serious consideration by Ivy Tech’s board members—and not just because they are appointees of the governor, whose spokesman has called her “an ideal candidate” for the post.

Ivy Tech officials say they’ll genuinely conduct a vigorous search, and we hope they are sincere. That search ultimately might lead board members to conclude Ellspermann is the best candidate.

But it also might unearth a candidate with superior higher education experience, even someone whose accomplishments include turning around a far-flung community college system in another state. We implore the board to fully engage in the search and interview process before making this important decision.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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