Texas lures Yudof; U search continues

Brad Unangst

Following the financial, athletics and administrative predicaments that highlighted most of the past year, the University is now looking to replace the man who led it through everything, former University President Mark Yudof.

Yudof’s departure – he officially assumed the chancellorship of the University of Texas System Aug. 5 – left University leaders scrambling to fill the institution’s most visible position.

Since early August, a search advisory committee has been working with a national academics search coordinator to identify interested candidates. But with four months remaining on the board’s timeline to name a new president, the University community might be wondering how it found itself in this position.

Yudof’s decision

Newspaper reports had identified Yudof as a potential candidate for the chancellorship of the University of Texas System, but Yudof had not publicly expressed any interest in the position.

Yudof said he had been contacted by UT officials about the position, but had not been made an offer or decided whether or not he would go.

“I really have a good job and we really have tremendous momentum at the University Ö I’m very happy where I am,” he said.

But on May 31, less than a week after making that statement, Yudof announced he was leaving.

Yudof said the decision was excruciating but that the “emotional tug” of Texas, where he lived for 26 years and served as a law dean and provost, was too great.

It was the second time UT pursued Yudof for the position while he served as University president. Two years ago, he was contacted about the chancellorship but said he withdrew his name early in the process because he had not yet accomplished enough at the University.

But this time, the opportunity to return home was too appealing. Yudof denied speculation that his decision was about making more money, or that a pending state deficit would again contribute to limited funding for the University. He also said that the series of high-profile University athletics scandals was not a major factor in his decision to leave.

“It’s where our family and many other friends are,” Yudof said of Texas. “It is home for us in a way.”

Yudof said he wasn’t planning to take members of his administrative staff with him, but former Vice President and Chief of Staff Tonya Moten Brown decided in July to leave the University to become vice chancellor for administration in the University of Texas System.

Her move was not unexpected, given Moten Brown has worked with Yudof since 1993, when he was dean of the University of Texas-Austin School of Law and hired her as assistant dean for admissions. She came to the University with Yudof in 1997.

Enter Bruininks

To fill the vacant presidential position, the Board of Regents acted quickly and named then-Provost Robert Bruininks as interim president. Regents said Bruininks was the obvious choice due to his overall commitment to the University.

University students, staff and faculty applauded the move.

“He bleeds maroon and gold. He loves the institution,” said University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter. “He’d do anything he could to make the institution succeed.”

Bruininks worked as a University professor, dean and administrator for more than 30 years, with Yudof appointing him provost in July 1997.

As provost, Bruininks was responsible for mapping out the University’s academic mission, including improving the undergraduate student experience and making colleges more accountable.

While he was convinced to postpone a planned one-year sabbatical to assume the interim role, Bruininks said he would not actively pursue the permanent position of University president but also said he hasn’t ruled it out completely.

“But I don’t plan to be a candidate, and I expect they’ll be successful in finding someone to appoint in this national search,” he said.

Academic search officials said Bruininks’ appointment is consistent with how the University should address its day-to-day operations while conducting a presidential search.

Finding an experienced administrator from within the University – one who does not want to become a permanent president to deal with the daily operational issues – allows the board to conduct the presidential search with the appearance of administrative stability, said Bob Atwell, president emeritus of the American Council on Education.

The search continues

But finding interested candidates could prove difficult under the state’s open meeting law, which board members called the greatest barrier to conducting an effective search process.

Under the law, a state executive governing body must conduct business in public, which means the names of potential presidential candidates would be revealed.

High-quality candidates would be scared away by the fear of their names being discussed while still holding their current position, search experts said.

To keep candidate names secret, Regent Frank Berman suggested the board not voluntarily comply with the law.

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said he advised the board on its options to conduct the search under the law, but members decided to use the 12-member advisory committee to interview and recommend candidates to avoid any legal issues.

Besides legal hurdles, the University is facing other potential roadblocks in the search.

Whoever takes over the position will face challenges such as balancing student enrollment and accessibility, finding new sources of financial support to maintain quality academic programs and attracting top researchers.

“(The board) will just have to find somebody willing to work with the issues,” said Ted Marchese, senior consultant for the Academic Search Consultation Service.

The Board of Regents is expecting the committee to narrow the field down to five or six semifinalists. From that pool, the board hopes to name three finalists, with the permanent president being selected by the end of the year.

The decision to find a candidate who would either continue the momentum established during the Yudof years, or one who will enact his own vision for the University’s future, tops the board’s list.

Newspaper reports have identified former Gov. Arne Carlson and Kansas State University President Jon Wefald as possible candidates. Others said they would like to see Bruininks remain as a permanent president.

Brad Unangst welcomes comments at [email protected]