UT regents meeting raises questions about presidential vetting process

Posted Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A decision by UT regents to reopen discussion about their choice to succeed outgoing UT Arlington President James Spaniolo is raising questions about the process used to vet the candidates.

This afternoon, regents for the University of Texas System will hold a closed session described on the agenda as "discussion and appropriate action concerning individual personnel matters related to the candidacy of sole finalist for president."

No further details were released.

The meeting, posted Monday, comes amid renewed scrutiny of finalist Vistasp Karbhari's leadership connected to a 2010 shooting that killed three faculty members at his University of Alabama-Huntsville campus.

In a wrongful-death lawsuit filed in 2011, relatives of two of the faculty members accuse Karbhari of failing to follow university protocol in the case of professor Amy Bishop Anderson, who is serving a life sentence after the shootings.

The lawsuit says Bishop had a history of severe and observable mental instability and violence and describes a campus where many people had expressed concerns about her mental state. Yet she remained on staff.

"One UAH Dean documented threat by Bishop against her and the department, and wrote about actively avoiding Bishop after the tenure decision because she was 'harassing' and 'hounding' her," one amended version of the lawsuit states.

"Neither defendant Karbhari nor other UAH administrators took action to intervene or follow UAH's clear life-safety regulation."

Karbhari is provost and vice president for academic affairs at the Alabama university.

On Thursday, the board of regents named Karbhari the lone finalist to replace Spaniolo.

Some regents have since said they weren't aware that Karbhari was named in the lawsuit.

Dan Formanowicz, a UTA biology professor and member of the presidential search committee, said that his committee was aware of the legal action but that he doesn't recall it being a "big issue."

He said he assumed that regents had received the same background information.

Efforts to reach Karbhari and several regents were unsuccessful. Questions emailed to regents Chairman Eugene Powell were not immediately answered. Several members of the search committee declined to comment.

The typical vetting process includes formation of a search committee and the use of a search firm to identify potential finalists, UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said.

The committee narrows the list for interviews that can take place over several weeks or months, LaCoste-Caputo said. Candidates often meet with key groups of faculty and students.

The candidate pool is then narrowed for interviews by regents.

Generally, they interview two to five candidates, she said.

Interviews take place in closed sessions, and regents name a finalist or finalists in open session, she said.

"Most often, the board names a sole finalist, though there have been times that more than one finalist is named and a second round of interviews must occur," she said.

LaCoste-Caputo said she can't share specifics about what the board will discuss.

She said that no action can be taken in closed session and that the board does not intend to act today.

Regents selected Karbhari after an eight-month search. He was designated the lone finalist and was expected to replace Spaniolo after a 21-day waiting period.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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