UMass police chief hiring procedure involves input from across campus

By Jordan Deschenes

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

With Tyrone A. Parham’s recent appointment as the University of Massachusetts’ chief of police, one of the school’s most extensive search and hiring processes in recent years has come to an end.

The search process, which finished in December, was a standard procedure at UMass for the hiring of prominent faculty members.

“What I believe is the best practice is to invite as many members of campus to participate as possible, which we accomplished,” said David Vaillancourt, senior associate dean of students and chair of the school’s official search committee.

According to UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski, Vaillancourt was selected to chair previous search committees for executive positions, including the committee that hired Vice Chancellor Enku Gelaye in 2014. Blaguszewski said it’s a “typical practice to have a non-member of an organization serve as chair” of search committees seeking high-profile positions.

The committee was comprised of around 20 university faculty and police members, with only four student representatives, an amount that Student Government Association Speaker and committee member Lauren Coakley said was a fair representation of student opinion.

“I think we (as student representatives) were really a full part of it, and I think we really got the student opinion out there, because there were a lot of faculty and administrators (on the search committee).”

According to Coakley, the University “usually reaches out” to student organizations to serve on search committees, although she has seen “a lot of SGA students serving on search committees” in particular.

During the four-month process, the search committee was responsible for selecting finalists from an initial pool of candidates and then reviewing online feedback forms to consider each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. The committee’s final recommendation was then submitted to the hiring authority – headed by Gelaye.

Vaillancourt says he was impressed with the “breadth” of respondents and the length of their responses to questions on the forms.

According to Vaillancourt, 58 online feedback forms were received from community members in addition to an uncounted number of paper submissions. The 58 feedback forms generally were a result of the audience members at the three on-campus public forums that were held respectively by finalists.

“The assessment of the whole UMass community is critical for committee members to have as they develop the strengths and weaknesses of each finalist,” Blaguszewski said.

In addition to the search committee, UMass also employed the services of an independent consulting firm, Spelman and Johnson Group of Easthampton. This is a common practice for public universities when considering candidates for employment in a high profile position. According to Vaillancourt, the hiring of a consulting firm has been a “longstanding university standard.”

For a minimum fee of $31,600, Spelman and Johnson provided services that ranged from vetting an initial pool of candidates for the search committee to writing the job position specification that was posted online.

The minimum fee will be adjusted according to one-third of the chosen candidate’s salary; if this brings the total over the minimum fee, the surplus amount will be added to the bill. According to Blaguszewski, most of these expenses are paid for with UMPD salary savings.

According to Ellen Heffernan, a representative from Spelman and Johnson, her consulting firm was also hired to oversee the search process that selected Gelaye in 2012.

Blaguszewki says that the hiring firm was also responsible for providing “logistical support” to the search committee as they reviewed feedback forms.

“We spent time on campus to meet with people to talk about what the needs of the campus and the community are,” Heffernan said. “We then use this to write the online job position specifications.”

One group that the consulting firm met with early on was the search committee, according to Heffernan. The two parties discussed how the search would be run – mainly with the use of Skype and airport interviews. Eventually, in-person private interviews were held to narrow down candidates to a final three, who would be brought to campus.

Although she was “glad to be a student representative,” one complaint Coakley had with her role in the process was the difficulty of traveling to Bradley International Airport during the semester to conduct airport interviews in lieu of a semester’s worth of schoolwork.

“I couldn’t attend any of the airport interviews,” Coakley said. “We aren’t being paid … this isn’t our job to do all this and balance our classes.”

After the finalists held their forums, Spelman and Johnson was also responsible for the oversight of candidates’ meetings with major stakeholders – “a whole boatload of people” according to Heffernan. Candidates were then taken on a tour of the Amherst and Northampton area.

After the search committee submitted its final choice to the hiring authority, Spelman and Johnson’s job was essentially finished, according to Heffernan.

“At the end of the day, it’s Enku’s, the chancellor’s and the cabinet people’s decision (on who will be hired),” Heffernan said.

Jordan Deschenes can be reached at [email protected]