Alarm bells often sound in and around the academy when a higher education governing board rejects all of the publicly identified finalists for a top executive post and launches a new search. But the responses to that development heard Thursday in the Minnesota State trustees boardroom were cheers and sighs of relief.
That’s largely because the board had waiting in the wings a popular and well-qualified appointee as interim chancellor. Devinder Malhotra, a recently retired veteran of two Minnesota State Colleges and Universities leadership posts, was unanimously chosen to succeed retiring Chancellor Steven Rosenstone on an interim basis beginning Aug. 1.
Malhotra, 69, retired last year after a two-year stint as interim president of Metropolitan State University in St. Paul and a career in economics and higher education administration capped by five years as provost and vice president for academic affairs at St. Cloud State University. He was not a candidate for the chancellor’s post, but quickly accepted when invited Wednesday to come out of retirement for an interim appointment.
The relief heard in the boardroom likely had one other impetus. Those who had screened the three finalists during their visits to the state earlier this week came away dissatisfied. No favorite emerged.
Opting for “none of the above” couldn’t have been an easy call for the 15-member Minnesota State board. The system’s long-range financial projections are awash in red ink, and its most recent strategic plan was born amid intense faculty dissension. The 400,000-student, 54-campus system’s sprawl is a governance challenge. The system needs a trusted leader who can quickly rally support from varied constituencies, stabilize the system financially and gear it to produce more of the skilled workers the state’s labor-short economy demands.
When such a leader was not found among the three finalists — none of whom has a recent Minnesota background — the board chose well by turning to an interim appointee who seems to more nearly fill the bill. It’s a move that should inspire confidence — not alarm — among the lawmakers charged with allocating state funds to higher education in the next two years.