The University Record, December 19, 1995

Alums want leader from academe who has demonstrated political savvy

By Jane R. Elgass

Strong academic leader. Communicator within and outside the University. Delegator. Politically savvy. Consensus builder. Mediator. Committed to importance of quality teaching. Sensitive to needs of students. Has a history of advocacy for women. Able to anticipate problems and plan how to handle them. Familiar and comfortable with technology. Team player.

These are among the many qualities needed in a new president that were cited by a group of alumni last week at a forum held by the Regents as they begin to conduct their search for a successor to President James J. Duderstadt.

The alumni were asked to share their thoughts on three things:

 

Challenges facing the University and the type of person needed to effectively deal with those challenges.

 

Characteristics of the individual.

 

The selection process with respect to confidentiality and the Open Meetings Act.

 

Characteristics of the individual

Several characteristics were cited by almost every speaker---agood communicator from academe who is comfortable in the political world.

Regent Emeritus Thomas A. Roach (Law, '53), who also is president of the Alumni Association, called for an individual who would be "an effective spokesperson in Lansing and before the public at large on the value of the University of Michigan to the state," as well as someone "who is familiar with and active in the political process, in dealing effectively with governors and legislatures."

Richard Rattner (LS&A '67) called for someone who can show that the University "is directly relevant to the state, serves daily the needs of the state."

Lana Pollack (B.A., M.A. '71) said the new president should be someone "who is almost as comfortable within the public and political realm as he is in the university world;" someone who understands the teaching and research missions of the University and is able to explain and interpret the University to others.

"Many come stiffly and arrogantly to Lansing," Pollack said. "They think we're yahoos. Why come? They may not say it, but we in Lansing can read it. You have to have someone political." The speakers also were almost unanimous in advising that the new president should come from the academic community.

Roach noted that "in time of stress, faculty look to an academic leader. We need a strong academic leader."

Pollack noted that "a president who does not have the confidence of students and faculty won't succeed."

Robert Forman (Rackham '59) called for someone who is a consensus builder. We need someone who brings us together as a University community, someone who leads and serves and provides us with a sense of the University of Michigan. We need a sense of unity."

The Regents were asked by two recent graduates to keep in mind the needs of the students.

David Willson (Engin. '93) called for a president with a "true and absolute commitment to the highest quality education possible."

He blamed increased attention to research and a reward structure that does not sufficiently recognize teaching for a "dramatic drop in teaching quality."

"The reason we're here," he said, "is the undergraduate student body." In making decisions affecting students, the next president should ask, "`Is this in the best interests of undergraduates?'" Willson said.

He also called for a president who would "create a culture that rewards excellent teaching," and pressed for an examination of the criteria for tenure, noting that there have been instances when tenure was denied "because the teaching time was too high."

Edith Nickel (Rackham '67) called for a president who would "put the emphasis on our client, the students, someone who would focus on their needs."

Also calling attention to the needs of students were Wayne Middleton (Engin. '45) and Jessie Halladay (LS&A '95).

Middleton asked for a president "with vision who will continue to improve and meet the needs of undergraduates and expand [the University] to take on more undergraduates."

Halladay told the Regents that "students should be in the forefront" of their thoughts as they conduct their search.

Among other criteria, she hopes that the Board will be able to find a president who is committed to diversity and addressing the needs of women, as well as one who "will keep open the door to students who have emptied their wallets to attend [the University]."

Thomas Fitzgerald (Rackham '51), called for a president "who can repair the divisive consequences of the [Michigan] Mandate," which he said has resulted in some good things, but that there are "costs and side effects that have not been recognized publicly" but rather "met by silence or diffidence."

He asked for an individual who would place less emphasis on expansion and high technology and more attention to learning, to "developing responsible citizens capable of guiding the country in the future," as well as one who would provide a way to hear from "thoughtful stakeholders."

Audrey Jackson (Social Work '83) was not as concerned about the personal characteristics of the next president as were some of the speakers. Rather she seeks an individual who will "pay attention to the social environment and is sensitive to the needs of the real world," one who will "fulfill the values of the community, not just those of the faculty, one who will maintain a sense of reality, including what diversity really means."

A 54-year "observer of the University," Jean King (Law '68) wants a leader who will be an advocate for women.

She said she has not seen in any University administrator or faculty member the evident commitment to women's issues displayed by Duderstadt.

Attending several of his town meetings last spring, she was "amazed" that he was not patronizing, that he treated his audiences---"even staffers"---as equals. His departure, she said, is a "loss to women."

She advised the Board to look at candidates' history of advocacy for women, adding that the individual "must be willing to take on strong departments."

"President Duderstadt had an excellent understanding of the use of technology" and the new president "should possess similar skills," according to Charles Cremin (Engin. '57).

"We are just entering the dawn of a new era that has profound implications," Cremin said. "We need a president who is comfortable in this environment and able to lead the University into the new age with respect to instruction, the preservation of knowledge, research, management and continuing education."

 

Challenges facing the University

Several challenges facing the University were acknowledged by Roach, who made the opening presentation at the forum:

 

The high cost of tuition and fees that are driving the middle class out of the market and the U-M out of competition with other schools.

Noting that as a prior Board member he had voted for tuition increases, Roach said the choice came down to "diminish the excellence of the University or increase fees."

The U-M, he said, has always assured that no Michigan resident will be denied access because of lack of financial resources. However, the burden of inflation and the threat of decreases in federal financial aid programs makes it imperative to select a new president who is able to attract state funding, who will continue development and fund-raising activities at a high level, and who is able to decrease costs.

 

While the University may lead the nation in research, the cost of that research might exceed its revenues," Roach said, "placing a burden on other University resources."

 

Many faculty were appointed in the 1950s and 1960s and will be retiring in the next few years, not just at the U-M but nationwide. The competition will be tough.

 

The public's lack of confidence in higher education and the role senior faculty play in undergraduate education.

Forman said the Board "should take a serious look at the definition of governance" and to define and understand the role of the faculty and the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs.

The Regents also need to determine the role of the president with respect to the Board to ensure "consistent and broad-based agreement."

A variety of approaches to a search complicated by restrictions of the Open Meetings Act were offered by several speakers, ranging from changing the law to following it to the letter.

Roach advised the Board members to use every effort they can in the Legislature and the courts to change the law.

"I feel strongly," Roach said, that "as much as possible the search should be conducted privately and with confidentiality."

Involved in several presidential searches when he was a Regent, Roach noted that candidates he spoke with were unanimous in not wanting their names disclosed.

If the search is not conducted privately, Roach said, "you will lose more than half of your pool. People don't want to expose themselves. Their whole career hangs on this sort of thing.

"Even if you limit it to the top three names, my guess is you'll get `nos.' You'll chill the pool even with limited exposure."

Roach said that if the winnowing process cannot be done confidentially, the Board should consider "delegating responsibility to a search firm or advisory committee."

Roach offered one more solution to the OMA restrictions: Disclose the entire list of candidates at the beginning of the process. "The papers can speculate ad nauseum and you can then close until the final selection is made."

On the other side of the issue, Pollack told the Regents they must abide by the OMA.

"It's the law, there's a reason behind it. This is a public university; that's why we're special. If [a candidate] can't take exposure, he won't be a good president, won't succeed in his public function.

"It is an honor to be considered," she said, adding that while "there are uncomfortable aspects, the OMA in the end will serve this great University well."

"Fight for the right to some privacy during the process," was the advice given by Frederick Matthaei (Engin. '47) who also asked the Regents to "look to the inside" for someone "who can continue the University's traditions."

Cremin also told the Board not to overlook qualified internal candidates, while admonishing the Regents to "not take too long or be too analytical."

Prepared remarks by Jody Hall (Engin. '94), who was unable to attend the forum, were made by Cremin. Hall asked for a "thorough and efficient search. Take the time to select the best," Hall said, "but remember that many other decisions are affected by this," referring to the search for a College of Engineering dean.

Middleton suggested that the Board use an outside consultant, "because you all have personal and political biases. This would be minimized by going to an outside person."

A suggestion that the Association of Governing Boards (AGB) meet and collectively support the privacy of searches was made by Forman. "If the AGB would do this," he said, "it would remove the concern of some candidates of being fired" from their current position.

Since the Regents should look for a visionary who is an academician with ties to the humanities, who is highly respected by the faculty, can deal with the political world, is a good communicator and delegator who understands the values and appreciates the great traditions of the University, they might want to consider a team approach, suggested Bob Hoffman, (LS&A, Bus. Admin.).

"Since no one person can have all these qualifications," Hoffman said, appoint a president and provost team, making certain the president is in agreement on the person selected to be provost.