The University Record, June 17, 2002

Presidential Search Advisory Committee does what seems the impossible

By Laurel Thomas Gnagey

How can 16 people from three U-M campuses and the community meet 15 times, review over 200 nominations, hear the thoughts of some 25 constituent groups, and help to choose the next president of the University within a six-month period? Ask that question of any one of the members of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee (PSAC) and the answer likely will be the same: a commitment to the goal and an unusual cohesiveness within the group that was enhanced by strong leadership.

The PSAC was given its charge by the Board of Regents in December. The faculty, staff, student and alumni representatives, led by Rackham Dean Earl Lewis, were asked to identify a pool of candidates to recommend to the board. By May 14, regents chose a new president, Mary Sue Coleman, current leader of the University of Iowa.

At the onset, Lewis says PSAC members knew that in order to have a new president on campus by the time fall semester began they were going to have to complete their task by spring.

“At the very beginning of the process, the timeline seemed a bit ambitious to me,” admits Rashmi Luthra, associate professor of communication at U-M–Dearborn. “But as we proceeded methodically under Dean Lewis’ leadership, and given the high level of commitment of all advisory committee members, the timely fashion in which the search was conducted did not surprise me.”

Member after member echoes Luthra’s observation that Earl Lewis was a strong leader who kept the group on track. “He kept us focused and he worked us hard,” remarks Alumni Association President Saul Green, senior counsel and director, Minority Business Practice Group, Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C., Detroit. “I think the success of the search is a tribute to Earl’s leadership.”

Lewis gives credit to the group as well, saying its members were “16 of the most agreeable people I’ve had to work with.” Not that they didn’t have differing opinions on occasion, says Lewis, but “we settled early on what we had to accomplish and we put our own biases and perspectives behind us.”

“For such a diverse group of individuals, we gelled right away,” agrees Paulette Cebulski, director and associate professor, Physical Therapy Department, School of Health Professions and Studies, U-M–Flint, who says she “enjoyed every second” of her participation on the PSAC. Luthra concurred: “Working with colleagues who have such a high level of dedication to the University renews one’s spirit.”

One aspect of the process that members found most rewarding was meeting with 25 different groups of people who had an interest in the search. These included various faculty, staff, student and alumni groups, as well as media.

“The outreach meetings gave us one message more than any other, which was that the entire community really cared deeply about who the next president was,” says Matt Nolan, former Michigan Student Assembly president and a student representative to the PSAC.

While that care was often expressed in terms of needs of individual programs and units, Cebulski says there were some clear themes across the groups. They included accessibility of the president; a commitment of the next leader to affirmative action, the life sciences and the regional campuses; and a healthy perspective on the role of athletics in the University.

“What struck me is how demanding the job is,” says Green. “I think everybody wants attention from their leader. Sometimes the larger the entity, the greater the need for access,” he adds. “Mary Sue Coleman took that seriously.” He says the group saw her as someone with “boundless energy” who could “really rev it up and get out and meet people.”

Another theme that emerged from the meetings is that the community wanted a leader who would be in for the long haul. “They wanted someone deeply engaged for a long period,” says Lewis.

Despite the time spent seeking input from the community, some at the University had been critical of the lack of information about the search as it progressed. Members of the advisory committee defend their commitment to a confidential process, including Nolan, who cites as evidence the new president’s statement that she would not have been a candidate if the search had been open.

“We worried if one name slipped out that could have chased away everyone in the pool,” Lewis says. Still refusing to offer much detail, the dean would only say that the committee had “outstanding candidates from a variety of walks of life.

“Our job was to make the regents’ job difficult—to create a rich and deep pool of candidates—and that’s what we did,” Lewis notes. ‘The search process served the University very well.”

Members of the PSAC report personal benefit from their involvement as well. Cebulski, who’s been with U-M since 1973, appreciated the chance to hear from the various constituencies from all three campuses and beyond. Green agreed, saying he learned more about specific disciplines by listening to advocates for those programs at community forums.

Nolan says he was pleased to represent the students at U-M. “It was a great opportunity to both serve the university that I love, and to engage with some extremely interesting people in both the candidates and the committee, Nolan says. “The process has deepened my feeling for Michigan, and solidified my commitment to it as an institution.”


Presidential Search Advisory Committee

Earl Lewis, vice provost and dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies

Susan E. Alcock, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and associate professor of classical archaeology and classics in LS&A, and winner of a MacArthur Foundation award in 2000

Paulette M. Cebulski, director and associate professor, Physical Therapy Department, School of Health Professions and Studies, U-M-Flint, and former member of the Senate Assembly

Anocha Cornell, custodial supervisor, Building Services, Plant Operations

Nicholas F. Delbanco, Robert Frost Collegiate Professor of English Language and Literature, director of the Program in Creative Writing, and chair of the Hopwood Committee

John F. Greden, Rachel Upjohn Professor of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, and chair of the De- partment of Psychiatry in the Medical School, and executive director of the new U-M Depression Center.

Saul A. Green, president of the U-M Alumni Association, and senior counsel and director, Minority Business Practice Group, Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C., Detroit

Patricia Y. Gurin, Nancy Cantor Distinguished University Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies, chair and professor of psychology, and former interim dean of LS&A; and author of research on the educational benefits of diversity

Lisa R. Jackson, student in psychology

Michael J. Jandernoa, chairman of the board of directors of Perrigo Company in Allegan, Mich., the nation’s largest manufacturer and marketer of store brand, over-the-counter drug and nutritional products; and member of the U-M Business School Visiting Committee and the Michigan Life

Sciences Corridor Steering Committee

Rashmi Luthra, associate professor of communications, U-M-Dearborn, and member of the Agenda for Women Committee in 2000-01

Matthew J. Nolan, undergraduate student in LS&A majoring in history and political science, and former president of the Michigan Student Assembly

Tresa M. Pollock, professor of materials science and engineering, College of Engineering.

Lawrence Root, professor in the School of Social Work, director of the Institute for Labor and Industrial Relations, and chair of the U-M Standing Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights

William R. Roush, Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis Professor of Chemistry, and co-chair of the Life Sciences Commission

Theodore L. Spencer, director of Undergraduate Admissions