U seeks candidates to fill its top position

Kelly Wittman

Since University President Nils Hasselmo announced last year that he intends to retire next July, the clock has been ticking on the University’s search for a new president.
Members of the University community have a variety of opinions on what characteristics a new president should have. Last winter the Board of Regents began the process of searching for Hasselmo’s successor by holding a series of forums where University faculty, students and staff delineated the traits desired in a new University president.
The regents used the feedback to draft a statement of desired characteristics, and in June regents charged an 11-member Presidential Search Committee with finding a candidate who fits the bill.
Matt Musel, the lone student representative on the committee, said it is important for University students and staff — especially those who are returning after summer — to know the application process is still ongoing. Anyone can nominate a candidate to be added to the committee’s pool. “An important part of the process are the people who are nominating (candidates),” he said.
Rather than speculating on who top candidates might be, Musel said he hopes students and staff will make their own additions to the pool.
The search committee meetings have been held off-campus and are closed to the public, but committee Chairman Gerald Christenson characterizes the process as a far-reaching, wide-open process. Those who wish to make nominations should pick up a nomination form from the Board of Regents Office or Korn/Ferry International, the consulting firm regents have hired to help with the search, he said.
Christenson said he would encourage those who still want to make a nomination to do so soon. The search committee is moving ahead and expects to have a list of three to five finalists to bring to regents by November, he said.
During the search process the committee has made a special effort to reach out to women and minorities, Christenson said. The committee has sent out a letter to numerous organizations concerned with women’s and minority issues, actively encouraging them to suggest candidates, he said.
Nancy Barcelo, associate vice president for Academic Affairs with special responsibility for minority affairs and diversity, said she has been pleased to see the attempt made by the search committee to create a diverse candidate pool. She said she has been asked to nominate people for the job three separate times.
Christenson said one reason for holding the meetings off-campus and maintaining a level of confidentiality during the search process is that the person who will fill Hasselmo’s shoes likely holds a substantial position at another large research University.
This person does not want to jeopardize the position he or she may have now, he said. “I know from past experience that we will lose top candidates if we make names public early in the search process,” Christenson said.
Furthermore, he said, the law provides for the privacy of the candidates until the list of finalists is presented to the regents.
The process is not necessarily open, Helen Phin, president of the Minnesota Student Association said. Some of her concern stems from the number of faculty and students on the search committee, she said. There are only four faculty and one student on the committee.
The Univer-sity catered to the governor and to corporate interests when choosing the search committee, Phin said. “Just about anybody who wanted a seat on that committee got one,” Phin said. The University is pandering to outside interests who don’t have the same stake in the University as students and faculty, she said.
But student views will be heard on the search committee, said Marvin Marshak, vice president for Academic Affairs.
“Knowing Matt (Musel), I’m convinced the student view will be heard,” Marshak said, although students may come up short should there be a vote in the committee.
This search committee is smaller than past presidential search committees by design, said McKinley Boston, Vice President for Student Development and Athletics. Even though the committee is smaller, it is still representative of the University community, he said.
The search committee is working well right now, Christenson said, but he is concerned how developments concerning tenure reform may effect the working relationship.
However, Christenson said, the committee has a clear assignment from regents and will not allow itself to spend time and energy on matters that it is unable to resolve, he said.
The current tenure reform situation does not make for the best possible atmosphere in which to search for a new president, Marshak said. But, he said, the search goes on.
Musel said the Regents statement of desired characteristics is guiding the search process. Some of those desired characteristics are understanding and appreciation of a rich academic tradition, leadership within a large, complex organization and ability to build energetic relationships with governing bodies.
Barcelo said she wants a president who believes in diversity and will provide important leadership in that area. The new president should have an understanding of the multicultural population that makes up the University, she said.
Barcelo added the new president should also be an outstanding professor as well as administrator.
Phin said she wants a student-friendly president, one who thinks hard about how decisions being made are affecting students.
In addition, Phin said, the new president should consult with students more than Hasselmo has done. The present administration has consulted with students in the past on some decisions, she said, but she would like to see more dialogue.
The University needs a new president with good mediation skills, Boston said. The new president need not have a bold new vision for the University. In fact, the new president needs to recognize that immense time and emotional investment have been put into projects like U2000 — Hasselmo’s restructuring plan for the University.
The new president also needs to have a strong sense of his external role and needs to reconnect the University with the community, Boston said.