Memo on the AUBG Presidential Search and Appointment Process
April 16, 2020
Dear Members of the AUBG Community,
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it dramatically. The entire AUBG community including faculty, staff, students and alumni, are no exception. We could not be prouder of how the entire team on campus reacted quickly and decisively to respond to the myriad of crises presented by the pandemic during the past months. The challenges of making sure all students, faculty and staff are safe, providing support to students as nearly all of them had to move off-campus, supporting faculty as they began to hold classes on line, and disappointing graduates and their parents who looked forward to graduation celebrations have all involved difficult decisions. The Board of Trustees is tremendously grateful and proud of the efforts of every one of you to adjust to this unprecedented situation with professionalism, creativity and a positive attitude. It shows the true AUBG spirit that makes this institution unique and resilient.
We must, however, face the prospect that the COVID-19 situation will likely continue to disrupt our lives in profound ways for some months to come. Given this stark reality, the AUBG Board of Trustees has also had to make some difficult decisions, including facing the fact that we needed to temporarily suspend the search for a permanent President of AUBG. We want to make certain the entire AUBG community understands the reasoning behind the Board’s decisions in a transparent and frank way.
Suspended Search for New Permanent President
As many of you know, a search for AUBG’s next permanent President has been underway since October 2019. In accordance with best practice, an AUBG search committee made up of faculty, staff, students, alumni and board representatives has worked hard over the past six months to identify and review a pool of candidates with the help of a professional higher education executive search firm based in Boston. We were pleased that over 60 candidates submitted their resumes and letters of application in response to the position description. The search consultants screened the applicants before presenting the fourteen most qualified candidates to the committee for their consideration. The AUBG search committee then reviewed selected resumes and narrowed the field to seven highly qualified candidates. Thereafter, the AUBG search committee interviewed those candidates remotely and identified a smaller pool of finalists with strong backgrounds.
Under the original plan, finalist candidates were to be invited to campus in April to meet with constituent groups. Based on feedback from the AUBG community, the search committee would then have needed to submit an unranked list of the top recommended candidates, from which the board would make the ultimate decision about whom to hire. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made these on-campus visits impossible. The AUBG search committee also considered the feasibility of “virtual campus visits” by finalists. But, even if such an approach were workable, it is the Board of Trustees that has the authority under its By-laws to actually approve and hire a new permanent President. It is important for the AUBG community to understand that our current By-Laws (available on the AUBG website) provide that the Board of Trustees must meet in person to approve a new permanent President. Unfortunately, remote meeting of the Board of Trustees by teleconference or videoconference to take such action is not a solution under either the By-laws or Bulgarian law.
It was clear that, given the State of Emergency in Bulgaria, the restrictions on travel and border controls, it would not be possible to convene an in-person Board meeting before June 30, 2020, when Interim President Dr. David R. Evans’s contract is due to end. In addition, it is also unclear when the Board of Trustees will be able to hold an in-person meeting. Therefore, the Board of Trustees had no choice but to suspend the current presidential search until a time when candidates can be brought to campus for a proper community interview process and the Board of Trustees can meet in person to make a legally binding appointment of a new permanent President.
Extension of Term of Dr. Evans until June 30, 2021
It is also abundantly clear that AUBG must have a President during these difficult and unpredictable times. The Board of Trustees strongly believes that AUBG needs a solid proven leader who knows the challenges the institution is facing right now, so as to better meet the difficulties the coming year will undoubtedly bring. In view of the extraordinary circumstances and the State of Emergency in Bulgaria, the Board, after consulting with law firms in Bulgaria, and having provided the requisite written notice to all Trustees, adopted a Special Resolution at a Special Meeting held on April 16 held by means of telecommunications equipment so we could all hear and see each other, solely to extend the term of Interim President Dr. David Evans’ current contract for one year until June 30, 2021. It is not legally possible to amend or restate the contract except for this limited purpose under the extraordinary circumstances facing the Board.
The members of the AUBG Board of Trustees have full confidence in Dr. Evans. He has done an admirable job over the past year dealing with the myriad difficulties AUBG has faced and has shown strong leadership as AUBG faced the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has shown himself capable of making tough decisions, some very unpopular, and working tirelessly to find solutions to novel situations. These are skills that will serve us well as the COVID crisis continues to unfold and challenge AUBG during the coming months. The deep knowledge of AUBG’s functioning that Dr. Evans has gained over the past year will serve us well as he leads our community through a period of unprecedented challenges affecting universities and the system of higher education across the globe. We ask that the AUBG community join us in strongly supporting Dr. Evans as he leads the university during these turbulent times.
The most important matter for AUBG now is to adjust to the new normal and remain viable and strong. If we come together as a community to stabilize AUBG in the year ahead, we will be well positioned to attract the best talent when the presidential search reopens. The AUBG Board of Trustees would like to assure the community that, once travel restrictions and health risks due to COVID-19 have been minimized, the search process for a permanent president will be resumed. Since weeks and possibly months will have passed, we ask for your understanding that the higher education landscape might be quite different than it was when the search was suspended. Candidates who had expressed enthusiasm for joining AUBG may no longer be willing or able to consider such a move, while strong new candidates may be interested in the opportunity to serve at AUBG. The Board of Trustees in consultation with the professional search firm will decide how to proceed in the event that the viable candidate pool has changed considerably.
There will be many institutions of higher learning that will not survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, at this critical time, we ask for the support of all our students, faculty, staff and alumni so that AUBG will survive and emerge from the COVID-19 crisis well-positioned to offer the next permanent President a solid foundation for helping AUBG graduates reach even greater success and recognition in Bulgaria, the region and the world.
The AUBG Board of Trustees