Staff looking for president who can fill shoes
By Rebecca A. Doyle
Office decorations in Room 2068 Fleming Administration Building might well include a shoe rack to hold numerous pairs of athletic footwear if the Regents follow advice from U-M staff members.
Staff members told Regents they want the new president to have a "proven track record" of leadership in issues similar to those of the Michigan Mandate, the Agenda for Women, commitment to diversity, development skills, management of business operations and effective communication.
More than 20 staff members spoke to the Regents in a filled-to-capacity Anderson Room last Thursday about what they see asqualifications for a new president of the University.
Bruce B. Pringle, director of employee relations for Human Resources/Affirmative Action (HR/AA), said the University needs a "multi-faceted, multi-talented president." He urged the Regents to consider not only candidates from the academic world, but those from business as well.
"I urge you to consider the University as the complex business entity and major employer that we are. The annual operating budget is in the neighborhood of $2.5 billion. Operationally, we are in many ways similar to a large business conglomerate," Pringle said.
President James J. Duderstadt's current programs---the Agenda for Women and the Michigan Mandate---were praised more than once by staff members who see them as positive steps and beginnings in the right direction.
Elaine Sims, co-chair of the Commission for Women, told the Regents that women comprise 60 percent of the non-instructional work force.
"Staff women in particular are the backbone of this University," she said, "but despite our large numbers, we are practically invisible." Sims urged the Regents to look for a president who will continue to work toward the objectives of the Agenda for Women.
Carol Hollenshead, director of the Center for the Education of Women, affirmed the need for a president who will value the Agenda and the Michigan Mandate, but also told Regents they should "seek a leader skilled at building community and fostering collaboration among the various sectors and units of this University."
"I hope you will seek a president with a broad view, a generosity of spirit and the ability to talk and listen to all members of the community."
Hollenshead and many of the other 22 speakers urged the Regents to include non-instructional staff on any search committee they formed.
Jeffrey Tibbs, representing the Association of Black Professionals, said that the "next president must have a commitment to multiculturalism that is so internalized that he or she can make the Michigan Mandate not only a vision but the reality that confronts us here at Michigan and not that we view as the president's mission, the president's mandate." The next president should be a mentor who values staff development and will provide opportunities for advancement for African Americans that will result in promotions within the University, he said, as someone who has experienced exclusion.
"An African American who understands closed doors and has achieved the ability to force those doors open would certainly have the strength to hold these doors open for others to pass through."
Stephanie Weix, administrative assistant in HR/AA, noted three areas of importance for the Regents to look for in a new leader. To instill confidence in the new president, the leader of the University community should have a clear idea of how to move the University into the 21st century, be a proven leader who can inspire confidence and possess great personal integrity.
Many of those speaking addressed diversity as representatives of their groups or as individuals, but Jayne Thorson, assistant to the dean of the Medical School, told Regents that we need to look for leadership beyond "the distinguished-looking white men who have led our University until now."
"The `best man' for this job may be an African American lesbian in a wheelchair," Thorson said.
Noting again the large percentage of women staff members, Noreen Wolcott, editor for the Alumni Association, told Regents of the importance of flexible scheduling and family issues to so many staff members who traditionally have been and continue to be primary care providers for families. Her sentiments were echoed by Sue Rasmussen, associate director for affirmative action programs; Leslie dePietro, director of the Family Care Resources Program; and Cathleen Conway Perrin, administrative assistant in student academic affairs, who all remarked about the importance of programs for staff that will allow them to grow to their potential in the University.
Conway Perrin told Regents that the time of day---late afternoon--- and the amount of space in the Vandenberg Room were indications that perhaps gave staff the message that they were not expected to have as much input into the search process as other campus groups.
"There is a problem with classes at the University," Conway Perrin said, "and it's not in the classroom---it's in the class system." She gave as an example researchers who study gender issues but expect secretaries to wash out their coffee mugs and don't understand why secretaries may consider that demeaning.
By the end of the two-hour session, Regents had been urged to look for a president who is a strong leader, understands finance and fund raising, will be sensitive to needs of staff while leading them to greater productivity, makes up his own mind but listens to everybody else first, is committed to multiculturalism and diversity, will represent the University effectively to government officials ... and who doesn't mind pouring his (or her) own coffee.
Regents Shirley McFee and Nellie Varner, who chair a Board of Regents committee of the whole to find a new president for the University, thanked staff members who spoke, said they will take very seriously suggestions made at the forums, and urged staff members to continue to submit suggestions in writing.
Letters and other written communication may be sent to the Regents by e-mail or regular mail at the following address:
Secretary of the University
2012 Fleming Administration Bldg.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1340