Faculty, students grill Carl Camden in first presidential forum


Taylor Stinson

Carl Camden is one of two finalists in Oakland University’s presidential search.

Paige Brockway, Editor-in-Chief

Carl Camden, one of two finalists for Oakland University’s presidency, participated in an open forum on Monday, April 17.

Camden is president and CEO of Kelly Services, a staffing company in Troy, where he earned more than $5 million per year as of 2015, according to Salary.com. He announced his upcoming May 10 resignation from the company on April 14, the same day his presidential candidacy was made public.

Richard DeVore, chair of the Board of Trustees and the presidential search committee, opened Monday’s forum by addressing the elephant in the room: the rumor that Camden has already been selected as OU’s next president.

“We have two finalists, not one,” DeVore said. “We have, in my mind, two great finalists.”

The Oakland Center Banquet Rooms were packed with an estimated 600 audience members.

Skills for the job

While audience members asked about Camden’s credentials, leadership approach and future plans, he focused many of his answers on job training and preparedness, relating his goals for OU to his experience at Kelly Services.

“Academia is not a business,” said one faculty member who approached the microphone. “It is not to be reduced to training for jobs.”

The same faculty member expressed concern over Camden’s lack of academic experience. Camden hasn’t worked in academia since leaving Cleveland State University in 1986, where he worked his way up to chair of the Department of Communication.

Camden responded that there are many skills that are transferable between business and education.

“I have been involved in education policy all through my time as a businessperson,” he said.

Camden’s education-related positions include serving on the University of Detroit Mercy’s Board of Trustees, the Duke University Fuqua School of Business’ Board of Visitors and the OU School of Nursing’s Advisory board.

Leadership style

Shea Howell, a professor of communication, called this presidential search “the most poorly managed search” she has seen in her 30-some years at OU.

“You are about to come into a situation where the distrust for you personally is very high,” Howell told Camden. “ . . . And it is a distrust which, frankly, isn’t your fault so much as it is the Board of Trustees’. And I wonder how you are going to address that contradiction in your first few weeks in office.”

Camden responded that, in past positions, he always began as the outsider but proved his leadership by listening.

“Listening has worked, and alignment of needs has worked,” he said. “ . . . I would prefer to think that what we were trained in as academics, what we were trained in in our degrees, was to come in with an openness to new ideas, new thoughts and see how they play.”

He noted that “CEOs are typically viewed as deeply dictatorial,” but assured the audience that he is not.

Strategy moving forward

Camden criticized the university’s strategic plan, which was developed through a two-year, cross-departmental collaboration among faculty, staff and students.

“I get that a whole lot of time was spent on it,” he said. “I’m going to tell you, in my opinion, it is less than actionable . . . That plan may have the right thoughts in it, but it is not driving university behavior, and it is not driving actionable results, in my opinion. I want a plan that every document I see represents the vision of the university that’s written in the plan.”

He also openly admitted that he wasn’t sure how to answer some questions related to OU’s future because he hasn’t been able to communicate with university leaders yet.

“I’ve been careful throughout this process of not answering questions that I do not actually have the knowledge of,” he said.

Some appreciated Camden’s candidness, but others took these admissions as a sign that he didn’t do his homework.

“I need to hear things that tell me you know this university,” said Andrea Knutson, an associate professor in the Department of English, as a part of the forum’s final question. “I need to hear things that tell me about your vision.

“In your opening words, you suggested that we needed to be made great in some way and that greatness is tied, it seems to me, directly to economic terms, and that’s the main message I’ve gotten this whole time . . . I’d like to hear you articulate what our current mission is, and I’d like you to be able to talk to why we are a strong institution right now, and then to maybe tie that to some kind of vision that is not solely about the economy.”

Next steps

Camden’s executive resume is available on OU’s website, and the campus community is invited to give feedback on his candidacy by completing an online survey available at www.surveymonkey.com/r/OaklandCarlCamden.

The second presidential candidate will be announced Tuesday, April 18. A second forum will be held 10-11:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 20 in the OC Banquet Rooms. DeVore confirmed that the second candidate is a woman.