Saturday, December 20, 2014

On Finding A New President After University President Gamble Retires In June: "you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them they are not worth the search.'

 The Alaska Dispatch reported this week:
FAIRBANKS—University of Alaska President Pat Gamble plans to step down next summer after five years on the job, triggering a move by the UA Board of Regents to begin looking for a new leader at a retreat in January.
"President Gamble's commitment to the university and its students is a deep and genuine one. It capstones a lifetime of serving our country and our state. He deserves the time that retirement will allow to enjoy family and explore personal interests," said UA Regents Chairwoman Jo Heckman of Fairbanks.
Gamble told the regents Friday he plans to retire June 1. He began the job June 1, 2010.

I don't have any further information on this, but think it is important to note, given the drama of the Board of Regents offering him a a longevity bonus earlier this year and then rescinding it after considerable protest around the state.  The bonus might have kept him one more year.  Looks like we saved more than $360K. 

Rather than dwell on the past, it's time to think seriously about finding a new president who will serve the university and the state well.

Replacing university presidents, is a long affair and is almost always a nationwide or even international search.  The American Council on Education (ACE) writes in a 2012 report:

The Presidential Search Process  The presidential search and hiring processes for presidents appointed since 2007 are very different than those used for presidents hired between 1969 and 1983. For example, only 12 percent of presidential searches between the late 1960s and early 1980s employed a search consultant. The share of searches between 2007 and 2011 that used a search consultant was 80 percent. Likewise, only 31 percent of presidents hired between 1969 and 1983 received a written contract, compared with 61 percent of presidents hired between 2007 and 2011.
Presidents do not take lightly the acceptance of a presidential position. As such, most presidents sought advice from a trusted source before making a decision about their current position. The overwhelming choice of counsel for a majority of presidents was colleagues in the field, or family members. Nearly 30 percent of presidents sought no advice prior to accepting their current position.
While a majority of presidents reported having a clear understanding of the job when they accepted it, a sizeable minority expressed confusion or a lack of knowledge over some aspect of the job. For example, at least one out of five presidents stated they were not made fully aware of all institutional challenges, the institution's financial condition, or the expectation of the president during the search process.
Given the academic calendar, searches are usually begun nine months to a year before the position is to be filled.  Starting later than that means many good candidates have already accepted positions for the following academic year.

The timing of this announcement puts the University of Alaska at a distinct disadvantage.  For instance, the University of Nebraska announced four finalists for their presidential search in November.  Their president resigned in January 2014 and they have an interim president for this year.  I'd note they also identified these criteria for their president:
  • A deep understanding of higher education and proven success leading a major organization.
  • Passion for the key role the University of Nebraska plays in ensuring the state’s overall success through teaching, research and service.
  • Willingness to serve as president for at least five years, perhaps up to 10.
  • Credentials sufficient for appointment as a tenured university professor, including an earned Ph.D. or other relevant terminal degree, teaching experience and a personal record of research and scholarship.
This wouldn't be a bad model for Alaska's search.  The second point has to be adapted to Alaska, of course, and experience with Alaska is crucial.  We need someone who knows the state and isn't going to pack up when the temperature drops below 0˚ and the sun goes into semi-hibernation. 

The ACE report cited above also describes the characteristics of university presidents:

In 1986, the first year of ACE’s college president study, the demographic profile of the typical campus leader was a white male in his 50s. He was married with children, Protestant, held a doctorate in education, and had served in his current position for six years.
Twenty-five years later, with few exceptions, the profile has not changed.
Two decades ago, the average age of college and university presidents was 52. Today, it is 61. In fact, in 1986 just 13 percent of presidents were over the age of 60. In 2011, 58 percent of presidents are over 60. One possible reason for this aging of the presidency is the increasing complexity of leading a postsecondary institution. As colleges and universities face a growing number of internal and external challenges, governing boards and search committees are likely looking for more experienced leaders. This tenet is supported by the fact that 54 percent of current presidents in 2011 were presidents in their last position. In 1986, only 40 percent of sitting presidents held a presidency in their previous role.
While college campuses have diversified the racial and ethnic makeup of their student bodies, the racial and ethnic composition of college and university presidents has changed very little. Between 1990 and 2009, the share of college students that were racial and ethnic minorities increased from 20 percent to 34 percent. Between 1986 and 2011, the racial makeup of college presidents only increased from 8 percent to 13 percent. Moreover, when comparing data from the two most recent president studies, racial diversity declined from 14 percent in 2006 to 13 percent in 2011.
A 2008 ACE study1 suggested a possible reason for the continued lack of diversity in the presidency: a lack of racial diversity among the positions that are typically recruiting grounds for college presidencies, senior campus officials. In 2008 only 16 percent of senior administrators were people of color including just 10 percent of chief academic officers (CAO).
Although racial and ethnic diversification of the college presidency has lagged, there has been some headway in gender diversity. In 1986 just 10 percent of college presidents were women. Today, 26 percent of institutional leaders are female. Twenty-five years ago bachelor’s institutions had the greatest share of female presidents. This is not surprising given that most all-female postsecondary institutions were bachelor’s institutions. However in 2011, associate colleges had the largest share of women leaders. One reason for this shift is likely the closing of a large number of all female institutions over the past two decades.  [emphasis added]
The job of university president has evolved and fundraising is now often the major focus.  It's not an easy job.  The Nation had an article last year on the lack leadership and boldness from university presidents these days.  Here's are some quotes they gathered about presidents over the years:
The university president, Upton Sinclair wrote in The Goose-Step [1923], was “the most universal faker and the most variegated prevaricator that has yet appeared in the civilized world.” William Honan, writing in The New York Times in 1994, wondered why college presidents no longer “cut striking figures on the public stage.” “Small Men on Campus: The Shrinking College President” was the headline of a New Republic cover story in 1998. In their 2010 book Higher Education?, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus declared, “Once upon a time, university leaders were seen as sculptors of society.” Now they “are chiefly technocrats, agile climbers who reach the top without making too many enemies or mistakes.”
The whole article would be useful for the search committee to read and ponder as they begin their task.  

So would Milton Greenberg's article in the Chronicle of Higher Education - the one from which I got the Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice quote  ("You shall seek. . ." that's in the title.   He finds  no evidence that search firms  perform any better than the older, cheaper ways universities have found presidents.  He writes, in part,
Now, many years into retirement, I continue to smile at the increasingly convoluted drama of hiring for presidents—and now just about every leadership position. The entire process, managed by a horde of costly "search consultants," has developed partly out of legal and policy requirements regarding inclusiveness, but mainly out of the all-too-human perception that out there somewhere, someone superior to anyone already on campus awaits the call of greatness. These mysterious people are thought to be known to search firms that have rooms full of Rolodexes and computers full of databases chockablock with the names of reluctant candidates whose ambitions just need a nudge.

Yet there is no evidence that the use of a search firm improves the quality or longevity of administrative leaders compared with those chosen the old-fashioned way, by an internal committee, the board of trustees, or the appointing officer based on crony politics. The same lack of evidence applies to the promotion of inside candidates. David Riesman suggested that people tend to undervalue insiders that they know, and to longingly await the brilliant, good-looking stranger who captures the room by storm.

Since 1921, according to the University of Alaska website, we have had 14 presidents.  Two were interim, short term appointments, and one seems to have fled the state when he discovered all the dirty laundry he'd inherited.

The table below is adapted from a similar table at the University of Alaska website.  It, however, left out a picture of Wendy Redman.  I thought it was because she only served as interim president, but another, male, interim president did have his picture up.  So I decided to add her to my chart.  Each name links to short bio of the president.

Our last two presidents have been generals - one army and one air force.  Mark Hamilton championed hard and strong and increased the University's budget.  Patrick Gamble acted as the MBA he is and managed cut back strategies rather than advocating for the university.  I  feel it is important to get back to a president who comes from an academic background.  The next years will be full of turmoil given that the financial doomsday forecasts appear finally to be coming true.   The new president will have to be an articulate and passionate advocate for the university as well as a person with understanding of the underlying purpose of a university, its role in society, and how to fulfill that purpose in the modern era of changing economic and technological times. 

Do we have good candidates who are already in Alaska?  One who comes to mind is Fran Ulmer who served as Chancellor of UAA.  I'm sure there are others, including some with prior Alaska experience who have since moved out of state. 

Pondering these past presidents should be part of the search process.  Where have we been and where are we going?  Which of these presidents moved us forward, backward, or just held us in place?  How can that knowledge help in finding a new president?

1921-1949 Charles Bunnell

1973-1977 Robert W. Hiatt
 1984-1998Donald D. O'Dowd            
1949-1953 Terris Moore

1977-1977 Charles O. Ferguson
1990-1998 Jerome Komisar
1953-1960 Ernest Patty

1977-1977 Neil D. Humphrey
1998-1998 Wendy Redman
1960-1973 William Wood
1977-1979 Foster F. Diebold
1998-2010 Mark R. Hamilton

1979 - 1984 Jay Barton
2010-2015 Patrick K Gamble

It's easy to sit at home and write about this task.  I have no illusions about the difficulties the new search committee will face.  Most likely, the Regents will follow the national trend cited in the ACE report and hire an academic search firm.  Academic 360 lists about 70 firms that would be happy to do the search for UA.  That could easily cost the $360,000 bonus the president didn't get.  (Ohio State paid $610,000 for their President search)
Over the course of a six month presidential search, OSU used “unrestricted funds” to pay a private search firm, a private business jet rental company and other various restaurants and businesses in the Columbus area, expenses that one OSU professor said don’t seem extreme.
Personally, I would like a president who would be appalled that the Board of Regents were spending that kind of money on the search.  I want a president who wants to lead a great university, not one who needs to be pampered.  

The search committee will have to work hard not to be intimidated by the search firm.  I wish them, and us - the people of Alaska - good luck along with the diligence they'll need to find a great president for the University of Alaska.  in searching for a new president. 

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