Mahotra deserves the chance given by trustees

On Friday, the trustees of Minnesota State College and Universities rejected three finalists for the system’s top job and named Devinder Malhotra, the current interim chancellor, to the permanent job. The board concluded that none of the three finalists were the right individual to serve as chancellor.

The finalists, who had been named by a search committee last week, were Neal Cohen, a former airline executive; Dr. Ricardo Azziz, a university academic health official; and Van Ton-Quinlivan, a vice chancellor from California’s community colleges.

The announcement was surprising for a couple reasons. This was the second year in a row that the trustees have bypassed the finalists chosen in a national search and turned to Malhotra. Also, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the board spent a total $270,000 for the two searches conducted in the past two years. That’s a lot of money to come up empty-handed.

However, there is consolation prize here. Malhotra not only made an impression with the board, but also with Southwest Minnesota State University.

He joined the board on a visit to SMSU last November. Surprisingly, the board held a meeting on the SMSU campus. What is impressive is that the SMSU visit accomplished a feat that past chancellors were unable to do — visit all 37 institutions.

Malhotra demonstrated that Marshall wasn’t just a dot on the map that was a location for one of the system’s institutions. He talked like he knew a lot about southwest Minnesota and SMSU.

He called SMSU an anchor institution for the region. “It has a large agriculture base, but has a substantial amount of ag processing industry and also agricultural industries, but more importantly, manufacturing,” Malhotra said of the region.

He also talked about stories he heard during his tour of all the institutions on how students overcome some of the many challenges of today. More importantly, Malhotra talked about financial challenges facing the various institutions, including SMSU. After taking a walk on campus and investigating the buildings and infrastructure, he recognized there is a backlog of maintenance.

Board chair Michael Vekich was correct to say that, “The value of the leader that we have in place has been confirmed.”

Mahotra deserves the board’s support.