So, I walked into a colleague's office the other day and heard the strangest thing.
It turns out that an associate of my colleague's works at the College of Charleston with Alan Shao. Shao was a finalist for the EKU presidency that was awarded last Friday to Michael Benson. This associate of my colleague's says she was told that EKU offered the position to Shao before it was offered to Benson!?
The way the story goes, Shao allegedly told a number of folks in Charleston that EKU offered him the job but insisted that his
wife reside in Richmond. According to the story, Shao did not want to agree to that because his
son will be a senior in high school in Charleston next year.
Then yesterday, I got a quick note from a friend of mine in Charleston, who innocently wrote, "Congrats on the new president - what do you think of him? I heard you offered it to our guy but he turned you down - Who did you favor?"
My first thought was, "Holy Cow, Dr. Shao! What's up with this?"
My second thought was, "Could it possibly be true?"
I was in the room - somewhere around 12:15pm last Friday - when immediately following a unanimous vote of the Board of Regents, Chairman Craig Turner called Michael Benson and offered him the position. But, I've witnessed enough shenanigans over the years to maintain a healthy skepticism of public boards. Is it possible that the Regents, at some time earlier in the morning, decided on Shao, called him to talk turkey, but could not come to terms? Naw. It just didn't ring true in this case. Maybe if there had been a strong movement toward Shao...but that's just not how it felt on campus. To be sure, there was support for Shao among some of the faculty, but there was no compelling motivation for any kind of subterfuge. In fact, the thing I'm most convinced of in the whole process is that the Regents wanted a clean, uncontentious process that left them with one best candidate and a new president with a mandate for change, and some means for accomplishing it.
Fortunately, the faculty had two people in the joint meeting of the Search Committee and Regents, all morning who would have known for sure. I wrote to Faculty Regent Malcolm Frisbie and Faculty Senate President Sheila Pressley: "Can I print, without fear of contradiction from the committee, that at no time, was Shao offered the position of president?" Sheila said, "that's definitely the case...no offer was made." Mal said, "We did not offer the job to Alan Shao. Mike Benson was (and is!) our first choice."
Chairman Turner told KSN&C: "Alan
Shao was a finalist and will be a great president one day. As chair I
communicated the same opportunities and expectations to all finalists.
The Board of Regents unanimously offered the presidency to one candidate,
Dr. Michael Benson. It's time to move forward. The
Board of Regents and President Benson have many things to concentrate on
regarding the future of Eastern. That is where our focus is and will remain.
Dr. Benson is anxious to get started and we are excited about the direction and
change he will bring to Eastern."
Under normal circumstances, this would be the kind of thing one would let pass. I don't think there was any reason for Shao - a dean who was well-received on campus, but who lost out to a sitting president with an impressive resume of his own - to be embarrassed. But we've all been there. We've all competed for some prize and fallen short, only to rationalize our defeat with a few face-saving comments. My best guess is that that's what happened.
In the old days, comments pretty much stayed where you put them. But in the 21st century, they take on a life of their own, and Shao's alleged comments made it back to Richmond. The problem is, this kind of rumor could have the potential, if true, to weaken support for the new president by making Benson appear to be a second choice. I don't see any reason why the EKU community should be OK with that.
In fact, Dr Shao wouldn't really want that either. Shao told KSN&C that "EKU is a great university and I'm confident that President Benson will take it to even greater heights." Dr. Shao asked that I not "start anything controversial that can potentially inhibit President Benson's effectiveness at EKU. He will do outstanding things if given the opportunity to do so." But one wonders if Shao's concerns really lie elsewhere.
I reminded him that no one at EKU started anything. This rumor came to us and, based on what I've learned, my intention was to end it. If anything, this little episode further solidifies in my mind that the Regents made the right call when Benson was selected.
Shao's statement on the specifics of the rumor was limited to this: "With regard to my personal matters, I have no further comment."