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How did search fail?
UMW presidential search was seemingly routine, but failed to catch a prior Frawley arrest

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Date published: 5/13/2007


The University of Mary Washington hired William Frawley as its leader after a seemingly thorough presidential search.

The process was led by a consultant with more than 200 college presidential and chancellor searches on his resume.

A 12-member search committee held four meetings, reviewed applications and interviewed 11 finalists.

Despite these efforts, the search was a failure. Ten months into his job, Frawley was fired after being charged with drunken driving twice in two days.

The search firm used by UMW, Korn/Ferry International, validated the finalists' resumes and checked out financial issues and traffic violations. It was referred to as a "360-degree check," which included a criminal background investigation.

The company, however, never uncovered a potentially telling part of Frawley's past that happened while he was a linguistics professor at the University of Delaware.

About 20 years ago, the Wilmington News-Journal in Delaware ran a brief story about the arrest of 33-year-old William J. Frawley.

He was wielding a large knife and threatening to kill a passer-by, the newspaper reported. He was charged with carrying a concealed deadly weapon.

The charge was dropped shortly after the incident, according to court records in Delaware. That's why it didn't show up on the background check, a search expert said.

Additional details about the charge were not available. Frawley has not returned repeated calls for comment.

Mona Albertine, who chaired the search committee, said she didn't know about the Delaware arrest until being told by The Free Lance-Star.

"I think I would question it" during an interview, said Albertine, a member of UMW's board of visitors. "I would want to know more."

Korn/Ferry had "indicated the importance of search engines such as Google in finding out about candidates," according to the minutes of an October 2005 meeting.

A Google search done by The Free Lance-Star shortly after Frawley's local arrests turned up a reference to the charge against him in Delaware.

Shelly Storbeck of Storbeck/Pimentel and Associates, which specializes in college-level searches, said she sometimes hires private investigators to look into candidates. Often, she said, they're retired FBI agents.

UMW didn't use a private investigator.

Korn/Ferry's John Kuhnle, who works in Washington and guided UMW through the process, did not return a phone call or an e-mail.

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William Frawley was among three finalists to replace William Anderson as president of the University of Mary Washington.

The others were Risa Palm, then executive vice chancellor and provost at Louisiana State University, and Karen Gould, then dean of McMicken College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Cincinnati.

Palm has since been named provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs with the State University of New York.

Gould is now provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at California State University at Long Beach.