Regents develop goals for U president search

Brad Unangst

In the search for a new president, regents are trying to balance swiftness and scope.

“Our goal is to be speedy but thorough,” said Regent Chairwoman Maureen Reed, who presented a timeline for the search to replace outgoing University President Mark Yudof to the board Thursday.

But even with the best-laid plans, significant challenges to attracting a president to Minnesota remain, academic search officials said.

With hundreds of university leader searches conducted every year, competing for the best people is the board’s biggest challenge, said national academic search coordinator Bill Funk.

Other schools looking for leaders include Iowa, Ohio State University, Cornell, Mississippi State and Hawaii.

“People want an interesting job where they have a good chance of succeeding,” said Ted Marchese, senior consultant for the Academic Search Consultation Service. “So the whole climate, environment, culture, the politics becomes important to people.”

The University has faced challenges in recent years, including a deficit, tuition hikes and a spate of athletics scandals. Faculty salaries remain among the bottom of major research universities and have made it difficult to attract and retain top researchers.

“(The board) will just have to find somebody willing to work with the issues,” Marchese said.

To attract the best candidates, regents said they’d like to keep interested individuals’ names from the public until they become finalists. Regents asked University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg to investigate how to conduct the search without violating Minnesota’s public meeting law.

Good candidates will be scared away from the position if confidentiality requests are not honored during the search, Marchese said.

To help the board achieve its year-end goal, Reed said, a search firm will be named by Friday. The firm will help research and recruit a pool of potential candidates. Interim President Bob Bruininks has said he is not interested in a permanent job.

The top five academic search firms have been contacted, and regents Reed and Michael O’Keefe will narrow the search to one, Reed said.

The regents will select a firm based on its level of experience in searches, its ability to reach the largest number of candidates and its lack of involvement with other active searches.

Several regents said they were “very concerned” about choosing a firm that is involved with another academic search, especially for positions at schools in close proximity and size to the University.

“We don’t believe ones involved in searches in the Big Ten are good candidates,” Reed said.

Using a list of desired leadership characteristics from the University’s 1996 presidential search, the board discussed several important qualities the new president must have.

Board members said the next president should not only be “bright and innovative” but should also provide the University with “positive leadership” and continue its momentum.

“I think we should get the mindset we’re going to find somebody to replace President Yudof who is better,” Regent Anthony Baraga said. “I don’t think we should settle for less.”

Reed asked the board whether hiring a president to either further Yudof’s agenda or to act as a change agent was an issue.

“I think we need somebody who has both,” Regent Bryan Neel III said. “But I would favor continuing on the course of many of the programs we have put in place.”

Other board members had different views on where to find the next president.

Identifying nontraditional candidates – individuals with business or political backgrounds – is not out of the question, regents said.

Regent Jean Keffeler said although it is unlikely the board would hire a president without an academic background, the search should not eliminate a highly respected individual with the ability to understand University culture.

Reed said finding the broadest range of candidates was in the University’s best interest and asked board members to determine a “top 10” list of desired qualities. Those qualities will be combined into a more defined list for use in the search.

The responsibility of using that list to filter the initial pool of candidates to five or six falls to an 11-member advisory committee. The committee will recommend semifinalists to the Board of Regents. The board will then narrow the field to finalists from which the next president will be selected.

The advisory committee represent the broad interests of the University and must not contain any board members, Reed said.

The 1996 committee consisted of University faculty, students, alumni and administration, as well as community business and labor leaders.

Nominations for committee members will be completed by July 1, with regents Reed, Baraga and David Metzen making the final appointments, Reed said.

The board will name the committee members in mid-July with the first meeting scheduled for August, Reed said.

Hiring a new president will be one of many pending appointments facing the board.

The University is currently looking for a provost, athletics director, and deans for the College of Natural Resources, Medical School and Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

Regent Frank Berman said the most important duty the board has is picking the right person to run the University.

“There’s no other decision that comes even close to that,” he said.

Brad Unangst welcomes comments at [email protected]