The University Record, January 30, 1996

Last presidential search forum draws University, community members

By Janet N. Mendler
News and Information Services 

"Teaching is the best and most enjoyable job at the University, and the next president should be a passionate and articulate supporter of teaching," Prof. Louis Nagel told the Regents during the ninth and last presidential search forum at the Ford Library.

"Recognizing the importance of all our teaching would create a warmer atmosphere, I believe, and would open the door for a renewal of our sense of purpose on campus," said Nagel, a professor in the School of Music.

Ann Arbor Mayor Ingrid Sheldon, Washtenaw County Administrator Robert Guenzel and Grace Shackman, chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, also spoke during the forum at the Gerald R. Ford Library, as did Business School Prof. Marina V.N. Whitman, who has "been on both ends---as searcher and searchee---of more than one presidential search." Other speakers included U-M student Ryan LaLonde, alumni Richard Rogel and Chetly Zarko, and Mike Cross, a Ph.D. candidate in higher education.

Whitman's remarks focused on the search process and its communication imperatives, while the city and county officials emphasized the importance of a president committed to community concerns.

While echoing comments from earlier forums that U-M's next president must be an academic leader, visionary, strategic planner, fund and friend raiser and a good communicator, Sheldon suggested that the search committee look at communities from where the candidates come.

"What are the university's and the candidate's relationships with the community? Does the candidate have experience leading an academic institution within the setting of a larger community? How responsible has the candidate's institution been at making decisions which maintain the economic viability of its "neighborhood" besides meeting payroll? Does this candidate meet regularly with the elected leadership and other community leaders in order to meaningfully partner in the development of the entire community?"

Describing herself as an active alumna, a former tuition-paying parent and life-long Ann Arbor resident, Sheldon noted that the city has conducted three major searches in the past year, and for two of those, city officials sought candidates who had experience working in communities that hosted major universities.

"I hope you are able to select a candidate who also recognizes and thus cultivates the resources of the local community as an advocacy and support mechanism," Sheldon said.

Shackman, chair of the county board of commissioners, said she hoped that the next president would support expanded internship opportunities "for mutual benefit," so that students can receive real-world experience and the County can receive new ideas and assistance in areas such as public health, social services, urban planning, Headstart programs and natural resources.

The Board of Commissioners, said Shackman, is committed to reaching out to other governmental units and non-profit organizations for collaboration and joint agreements, and asked that the University consider intergovernmental cooperation as a priority. "There is much that we already do on an informal basis. We need to institute the partnership and facilitate the University's operational relationships with the public and private sectors in the County."

The new president, said Shackman, "can help shape and support a culture where cooperation flourishes and set up specific mechanisms and points of entry for it to work."

Guenzel, who serves as both county administrator and president-elect of the Washtenaw Development Council, encourag0ed the Regents to include community involvement as an important factor for presidential selection. "This is an important consideration in the selection of both a new president for the U-M as well as a direction for the University as a whole," Guenzel said.

The county wants to work with the University to assure long-term sustainable development, balancing economic efficiency and environmental integrity "to ensure the quality of life our mutual constituents have come to expect," said Guenzel.

More specifically, he suggested increased emphasis be given to locally based business in the commercialization of University research. "A commitment to this effort must come from the top of the University," Guenzel, said.

"The selection of a new president provides another opportunity for you to raise the University's priority for community involvement and increase the commitment of the University's top decision makers to the community," said the county administrator. Only with this leadership can the University continue to play the key role in the community's future."

Whitman focused her remarks on the search process and its "communication imperatives." Before any lists of potential candidates are compiled, Whitman said, the Regents must examine the University's past, present and future and then generate a job description which would become key in prioritizing the personal and professional characteristics candidates must possess.

Communicating conclusions from the various steps of the process is essential to a smooth transition from previous to new leader, Whitman said. Unless the general University community is aware of the search committee's vision and thus the forces driving the selection, members of the university community may measure the newcomer's methods and goals against an inappropriate set of expectations, to the detriment of all.

Zarko, a 1993 LS&A graduate, urged the Regents to look for a president who will strive for a balance between education and research. "U-M should not sacrifice its position as a research leader or economic engine in the region strictly to pursue teaching and education," Zarko said. "Our next president should steer the ship back to the center."

The University needs a leader who can set a vision for the 21st century, said Richard Rogel, a 1970 Business School graduate who is an active member of the Alumni Association. While not de-emphasizing the need for a university president to possess business acumen, Rogel said business leaders too often tend to focus on quarter-to-quarter gains, while a university leader must look far ahead, he said.

Rogel also suggested that the Regents fight the state's Open Meetings Act in court or "find a way around it." He doesn't believe that the most qualified candidates want their names made public early in the selection process.

Ryan LaLonde, a junior majoring in art, said some of his remarks were prompted by his encounter with a broken water main on North Campus. He likened the presidential search to a broken water pipe. "You don't necessarily want to replace it with the same thing." He told the Regents they should actively seek candidates other than white males.

Mike Cross, a Ph.D. candidate in higher education, urged the Regents to decide how they want the University to be positioned in the next century, then seek candidates who share that vision. "Direction is integral to the process," he said.

As they wrapped up the last of nine presidential search forums, the Regents expressed their appreciation to those who expressed their views, at the forums and by mail and phone calls.

"Your views and comments are very important to us," said Regent Nellie Varner, co-chair of the search committee with Regent Shirley McFee. "We wanted input from all stakeholders, and these forums have given us that." Regent Dan Horning called the sessions thought-provoking and beneficial.

The 14-step plan

The plan for the presidential search process outlines the following 14 steps and a timeline for their completion:

 

1) The Regents form a committee of the whole, called the Presidential Search Committee (PSC), chaired by Regents Nellie Varner and Shirley M. McFee. This was completed in November.

 

2) Regents solicit input from the University community and the general public. (Completed this month).

 

3) Regents select a search consultant. Malcolm MacKay of Russell Reynolds Associates was chosen Jan. 19.

 

4) The PSC reviews and adopts the proposed search process at an open meeting. The meeting was held last Thursday.

 

5) The PSC approves the creation of an advisory committee, the Presidential Search Advisory Committee (PSAC) and endorses its composition at an open meeting. (January or February).

 

6) The Provost recommends PSAC membership to the PSC at an open meeting in February. Prior to the recommendation, the Provost shall solicit nominations for members from all segments of the University community.

 

7) In consultation with MacKay, the PSC develops and adopts, at a public meeting in February or March, the charge to the PSAC and a position description which would include the preferred qualifications of the president.

 

8) The PSC, PSAC and MacKay meet to discuss the position description and the search process at an open meeting in February or March. Following this meeting, neither the PSC nor its individual members will communicate on this subject with the PSAC, its individual members or MacKay, unless such communications are made public, except to offer nominations.

 

9) The PSAC is to develop and recommend a prospective pool of candidates and to provide information and advice to the PSC. The PSAC recruits and initially reviews candidates. The PSAC will conduct recruiting and initial reviewing in closed meetings. This process will be completed in September.

 

10) The PSAC publicly presents the PSC with a list of all prospects and a list of five recommended names in September.

 

11) The PSC may review the specific content of applications in a closed meeting if the applicant has requested that the application remain confidential, but the meeting shall not be used for the purpose of deliberating towards making a decision as to a list of finalists.

 

12) PSC develops a list of finalists at an open meeting in September.

 

13) Public on-campus interviews are scheduled with the finalists and the PSC in September. Meetings between finalists and faculty, students, staff or administrators may be closed.

 

14) Regents meet and select a president in open meetings in September and October.