Monday, August 16, 2010

Alex Friedrich's Notes on Presidential Search Discussion

Kerri Miller spoke on MPR today with some consultants and former presidents about desirable qualities for the position of university president.

Alex Friedrich took notes:

Here are the guests:

  • Chuck Denny: Former head of ADC Communications and veteran on many university search committees for college executives.
  • Jan Greenwood: Greenwood/Asher and Associates, executive search firm. Former college president and veteran of over 1,000 searches.
  • Mike McPherson: Economist and former president of Macalester College in St. Paul, and currently President of the Spencer Foundation, whose mission is improving education around the world.
Are risk-takers well-received by boards?

Denny: If you don’t bring the faculty along, you have a catastrophe on your hands. Institutions have their own goals and visions, and may not be consistent with those of a faculty member. That is a tough, tough deal.

If you need buy-in from so many groups, how do you get anything done?

Greenwood: You can’t just be a person with great ideas. You need to be able to build support and juggle needs of various constituencies.

Do a lot of people want the job?

Greenwood: Actually not a lot of people want the job. There used to be.

What about looking internally for candidates?

Denny: There aren’t many mechanisms for bringing people up into such leadership positions. You’d hope there would be chairs who’d become deans, provosts and then candidates. And there are some like that. But the problem is that today in Minnesota, the financial situation is so acute, if you’re an insider today you carry a lot of insider knowledge and a lot liabilities and allegiances. Someone who comes from the outside unencumbered by these allegiances might be a better bet.

Why are some colleges tapping those from outside higher ed?

Greenwood: Do they want those from the outside? Yes. But do the outsiders ultimately end up with the position? Rarely. It’s the culture, financial struggle, etc. of universities that’s the issue. It’s not a time when higher education wants to take a risk.

Do corporate models work in the higher-ed world?

Denny: No.

When you took over at Macalester, what skills did you have and need?

McPherson: First, a small liberal arts college is different from a public university, so I wouldn’t generalize.

Former University of Minnesota President Mark Yudof is on the Time Magazine list of top college presidents, and he’s in California. Is it time for another personality like Mark Yudof?

Denny: Possibly. Yudof came, said he had five things he wanted to do, he did them, and left. There’s something to working only as long as you have an agenda – and not overstaying your time. That might take 5-10 years, though.

Eats, shoots, and leaves?

Good stuff. More where this came from, see link above.


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