ETSU will be looking for a new president

Dr. Stanton retires January 14, 2012.  Jan Breenwood and Betty Turner Asher, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education outline some of the challenges the search committee will face.  Of course, politics would never be a factor--wait for it--in Tennessee.

4 Roadblocks to Hiring Public-University Leaders
Economics. The challenges of the economic climate can affect searches in many ways. Prospective candidates may have an upside-down mortgage, owing more money than their home is currently worth, and/or may live in a housing market where property is not selling or is slow to sell. A candidate recently told us that he could no longer consider administrative posts at public universities, because public boards couldn't match the salary that he received from his private university and couldn't waive tuition for his children. He wanted to make one more career move, but he had to base his decision not only on mutual interest and a good fit with an institution, but also on the compensation and asset management it could offer.

Some excellent would-be candidates feel it would be disloyal to leave their university and its challenges in difficult economic times. They may have a spouse or partner who has little promise of a new job in a new location. Further, the possibility of membership changes on boards of trustees after new governors are elected may increase candidates' anxiety: "The board that hired me may not be there in a year."

Politics. Some believe that the work of university leaders has become so political and resource-driven that presidents are being removed from the core mission of the university, which is teaching and learning. When we asked current presidents what can be done to make their positions more attractive, many emphasized that they wanted more support from the board, which would help them obtain more funds from legislators and donors and would allow them to make tough decisions without fear of public backlash. They also wanted to be evaluated on the basis of their overall performance rather than their political and fund-raising success.

The need for confidentiality. Universities, candidates, and search firms typically prefer a public search, but the reality of the market challenges that preference. The question of whether leadership searches should be confidential or public became an issue in the early 1990s. Presidents who looked for other job opportunities faced negative consequences. They were at risk of being fired, and if they were not offered a job, or turned an offer down, they often found their leadership weakened at their home university. Financial requests to legislators were met with, "Let's wait and see what the next president asks for." Donors held back donations.

Today some states prohibit confidential searches. Yet public universities run into trouble trying to attract good candidates to the pool if their names have to be made public. In general, highly qualified university leaders will participate in confidential search processes, but rarely will they risk involvement in public searches.

A limited pool of applicants. In 2006, of 167 presidents of public doctoral institutions, 16.2 percent were female and 14.5 percent were minority members, according to a report by the American Council on Education. Universities often expect that their next leaders are currently either presidents or provosts at an institution of a similar type and size. Likewise, members of the Association of American Universities may want candidates who work at another AAU institution; land-grant universities may prefer land-grant experience; and flagships may prefer candidates who have administrative experience at a flagship campus.


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