Search for the next U President picks up speed

The search advisory board plans to choose University President Bob Bruininks’ successor by early winter.

Conor Shine

With fewer than 10 months until University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks steps down and returns to the faculty, the search for his successor is picking up speed. 

A 12-person search-advisory committee comprised of University faculty, staff and students as well as outside community members was formed in June and met in late August to organize the application review process.

The committee will wade through several hundred applications and submit a handful of candidates to the Board of Regents, which will make the final decision on Bruininks’ replacement. 

The next president, the University’s 16th, will take office on July 1, 2011, and Regents Chairman Clyde Allen said the board expects to have a candidate chosen by early winter to allow time for the new hire to transition into the office. 

Once the finalists are chosen, Allen said public meetings will be held to allow the University community to give input on the decisions.

In 2002, the board did not disclose the name of the three finalists being considered for president. Instead, Bruininks, who was the University’s interim president but not one of the finalists, was given the permanent position after a series of closed meetings.

Although the search advisory committee works in private and is not required to release the names of the applicants it reviews, a lawsuit by several media organizations including The Minnesota Daily prompted a 2004 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling requiring the board to publicly announce finalists for the position. 

The University budgeted $250,000  for the search process. Some of the funding was used to hire search consultant firm R. William Funk & Associates to assist the University in developing search criteria and identifying and contacting possible candidates. Funk & Associates is a national higher education consulting firm which has assisted in two University presidential searches in the past.

The president serves as the University’s CEO, Allen said, and will act as the link between the University’s governing body, the Board of Regents and the rest of the University community.

In the official position profile, the first quality the board is looking for is “a proven, successful leader.” Managing the University’s different campuses and entities is a challenging task, Allen said, and the board is looking for a candidate who has shown previous success leading complicated institutions.

The new president will take over a university system —comprised of more than 67,000 students and 4,000 faculty members across five campuses — which is facing stark financial issues and declining state aid.

 “The University of Minnesota is a very complex organization. We’re a land-grant institution, a research university and we have a medical school,” Allen said.  “We need someone who we can see the evidence that they have led an academic enterprise of similar complexity.”

The president’s primary responsibility is overseeing the University’s educational and research operations, said Bruininks, who has also served as a professor, dean and provost at the University.

As president, he said he also plays a role in fundraising, working with community and government leaders and representing the University around the state.

While experience in administration is an important qualification, Allen said the board also wants candidates with strong academic backgrounds who can relate to and work with the faculty.

“Academics is our business,” Allen said.  “I feel very strongly that [the president] needs to be someone with an academic background.”