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The School of Nursing building is pictured. 

Photo: Rory Heilakka

Penn follows a policy of confidentiality in its searches for new deans and senior administrators. From the time a consultative committee — a committee of faculty, students and alumni that performs the search for candidates — until the release of the new hire’s name, no details of the search process are released.

Penn President Amy Gutmann said that the confidentiality of the search process is the only way to attract the most qualified candidates.

By sacrificing confidentiality, Gutmann says, “people who are being considered often, almost in all cases, would compromise their current position, which they’re gener ally happy at.” Dean searches are currently underway for both the Law School and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Current Engineering Dean Eduardo Glandt will step down in June 2015 at the end of his current term, and interim Law Dean Wendell Pritchett , a Presidential Term Professor, will end his term at the close of this school year. Pritchett took office when former Law Dean Michael Fitts left Penn to become President of Tulane University. As interim dean, Pritchett will not be considered for the permanent dean position.

Gutmann partially credited the closed-door process as a method of precluding politics from corrupting the academic appointment process.

“We don’t want to make this like a political campaign where they have to campaign for the office,” Gutmann said. “That’s fine for democratic politics, but it would be a terrible way of running a search for a dean of one of our great schools.”

A private dean process protects the candidates’ self-esteem, as well as their jobs. “When we’re only going to hire one person of all the people under consideration, the vast majority won’t get the job,” Gutmann said. “We’d be publicly announcing everyone who gets rejected.”

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Dennis DeTurck , who served on the consultative committees for Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum and Vice Provost and Director of Libraries Carton Rogers , has first-hand experience about how the process works.

“People will apply, and they will be vetted,” DeTurck said. “It’s like applying to school. They’re vetted on paper first, and then some number of finalists will emerge from that vetting process.”

By keeping its prospects confidential, Penn is also protecting its own interests. “The place they are now may react to the fact that we’re looking at them by making them an offer they can’t refuse. So we don’t want to compromise our own positions,” DeTurck said.

Five dean searches were conducted last year, with four new permanent deans and one interim dean — Pritchett — beginning their terms this school year.

Even tenured professors, who face no risk of job termination for considering other institutions, are not announced publicly as candidates for deanships. “It’s not that they would be fired — it’s that they would be less effective in their positions,” Gutmann said. “They might not want to be candidates if they had to make it known to people that they were candidates.”

The consultative committee is not the only group who must keep secrets during a dean search. School of Nursing Dean Antonia Villarruel said that she was required to keep her consideration of the Penn deanship confidential before departing the University of Michigan.

Villarruel noted, however, that private dean searches attract higher-profile faculty members. At a public university like the University of Michigan, candidates are made public, so a candidate’s previous school will be informed of his or her potential exit.

“It worked to my advantage. Michigan is a public university, so in those searches, it’s public, and in some ways that sort of decreases the likelihood that you’re going to get candidates who have a lot more to risk.”

Villarruel said that throughout the roughly four-month search process, she met with the search committee in Philadelphia and had two other meetings with administrators on campus.

When Fitts left Penn to take on the presidency of Tulane, his decision to leave was kept confidential until Tulane officially announced him as its new leader.

Villarruel said she followed a similar procedure at Michigan. Penn announced her deanship initially, and then Michigan released the news. Although, she noted that a few of her peers were in the loop.

“Of course people I worked with knew that I had accepted the position,” Villarruel said. “Many people were surprised at Michigan... A few people I worked with knew about the announcement before it was made, but they were sworn to secrecy.”

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