Representatives of the U. of I.'s presidential search committee were on the Urbana campus June 25 asking constituents at a town hall meeting what kind of president they would like to lead the university.
Photo by Ron Payne Photography
"We are in the information-gathering phase and the town hall meetings are an important part of the process," said Doug Beck, a physics professor and the co-chair of the committee, adding meetings already had been held on the UIS and UIC campuses.
"It's an opportunity to tell us what's on your mind," said Pam Strobel, the co-chair of the committee and a U. of I. trustee.
Audience members did just that, asking a wide range of questions and making several suggestions to improve the process. Every question was answered and discussed openly by Beck and Strobel.
Three students asked the committee to consider student costs and other student-centric issues when choosing a president - and to hire someone who can connect with students.
"We need to know the administration is there for the student," said Sam Kaufman, a sophomore studying science and engineering.
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
He said the ideal president would be one who not only has a Twitter presence, but understands how it works.
"He needs to be able to actively engage with students and can get his message out to thousands of people at the click of a button," he said.
Erika Weir, a student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, agreed a new president should be responsive to students.
"We need more opportunities to express our voice to the administration," she said.
Mitch Dickey, student senate president, said in a letter read to the audience that costs and academic excellence must be the focus of a new president.
Stephen J. Kaufman, a professor emeritus of cell and developmental biology, said after students, a president's responsibility should rest with protecting the salaries and benefits of university employees.
"There's been very little, if any, advocacy for them," he said.
Lesley Millar-Nicholson, the director of the Office of Technology Management, said she is hopeful the new president is versed in research technology and economic development issues, and wondered how the committee might quantify that among candidates.
"What we've invested is significant, but it's a drop in the bucket," she said.
"We'll be seeking a demonstration of results (from candidates) in each of those areas," Beck said.
Joyce Tolliver, a professor of Spanish and a member of the Urbana Senate Executive Committee, said the new president should have an understanding of shared governance concepts and their place in the U. of I.'s operational structure.
Christopher Z. Mooney, the director of the U. of I.'s Institute of Government and Public Affairs, said the president will have to be adept at operating amid the political landscape of Springfield.
"He needs to understand the role of the university and the university president in Illinois government," he said. "He can't treat dealing with Springfield as an annoyance."
Diane Martin, Urbana's 7th Ward alderman, said a new president should ensure the community's needs are being met by opening a more formal line of communication with city leaders. She cited several examples of campus development where city officials feel they were not properly consulted.
"We have an inseparable relationship," she said. "(The U. of I.'s) decisions have a significant impact on the community."
Paul Hixson, the retiring campus chief information officer, said a president should understand the separation of the three campuses, support the work of the chancellors and understand the value of collaboration while allowing each campus to pursue its own mission
"We could hire a figurehead," he said, "but we need a lot more than that from a president."
William F. Brewer, a professor emeritus of psychology, questioned the efficacy of the search process, considering the last presidential search, similar in operation and scope as the current one, produced Michael Hogan, who resigned midway through his term.
Local resident Bruce Wood said hiring a search firm was "a colossal waste of money," and the university would be better served hiring a campus insider who already is aware of the issues Illinois faces.
He said the hiring of Hogan after the last search illustrates an outsider may not be the best fit.
Strobel, who also chaired the previous committee, acknowledged hiring Hogan "didn't work out well," but said the process this time was stronger.
"I'm working as hard as I can to deconstruct what was done," she said of the 2010 search. "I have asked not just myself, 'What should we have done differently?' "
One thing that is being done differently is an added requirement to delve more deeply into candidate backgrounds and the possible addition of a personality assessment - "things you could never get in a personal interview," Strobel said.
She said qualifications are important, but it also is important a president is liked by the people he or she leads.
"There's a likability issue in selecting the right person," she said. "It's a lot easier to follow a person when you like them."
Beck said the dynamic position is not an easy one to fill, but he is confident the search will produce many viable candidates.
"The U. of I. president is the spokesperson for higher education in the state," he said. "He must be able to work with government leaders and develop other outside relationships, which includes the entire Great Lakes Region."
Beck reiterated the importance of keeping candidate names anonymous as a way to encourage candidates to apply without jeopardizing their current positions.
Beck said university officials prepared a white paper describing the U. of I. environment, the role of the president and what an ideal candidate should possess to be seriously considered for the position.
"A lot of thought has already gone into that," he said.
Beck said he expects the committee to receive more than 100 substantive nominations before it starts paring down the list for an end-of-year recommendation to the U. of I. Board of Trustees.
"Soon we're going to start looking at that big list," he said. "There's going to be a dialogue between members of the committee and the candidates."
The committee will next meet July 11 at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center. Business will include interviews with U. of I. President Bob Easter and Jim Applegate, the executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
The white paper, candidate nominating forms and other information concerning the work of the presidential search committee is online.