Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On the Penn State Presidential Search: An Open Letter to the Presidential Search Firm – Isaacson, Miller--and the Penn State Community

"Penn State is searching for its eighteenth President. A Trustee Presidential Selection Council and University Presidential Search and Screen Committee have been named, following an announcement by President Rodney Erickson that he intends to retire no later than June 30, 2014. Assisting in this effort will be executive search firm Isaacson, Miller." (From Penn State Presidential Search) For Isaacson, Miller, this search is being led by Michael Baer and John Isaacson with Jackie Mildner and Karla Saunders.

A key component of the search will be to gather valuable input from the University community.  All all faculty, staff, students, and alumni have been encouraged to use the “Presidential Search Firm – Isaacson, Miller” link to nominate a candidate and/or provide thoughtful input to assist in the process.  

This post serves as the first of what may be multiple engagements in the process of moving toward a new President at Penn State.  It provides my own thoughts on the qualities that the Penn State community might find valuable in a new president and includes links to additional helpful sites.  The hope is that the Penn State community will engage actively in the search process and provide the sort of deep and constant communication with the search committees to help them in the formidable task of choosing a new Penn State President. 

Useful links to keep current on the Presidential search process
 Latest News
  • 03/11/2013
  • 02/20/2013
  • 01/21/2013

    On the qualities that the Penn State community might find valuable in a new president:

    a. someone who has experience in running a multi-unit enterprise. The point is here that the president needs to have the experience to understand and respect the mulch-campus organization here and the cultivation of mutual respect and support between university Park and the campuses.

    b. someone who understands and is deeply committed to shared governance--not just as a narrow concept of faculty in charge of their own courses, but more broadly in participation in the governance of the university.

    c. someone who respects the institutional role of faculty governance organizations--not just the university and local senates but also faculty bodies like the AAUP.

    d. someone who respects the primacy of the educational and research mission of the university and that will not be inclined to think of these missions as merely dependent on fostering a more aggressively profitable money generating enterprise but will balance the educational and research missions of the university with sound fiscal policy that is meant to serve but not dominate the way the president approaches issues.

    e. someone who is comfortable both in business and academic circles and can speak the language of both; indeed it may be possible that the best candidate is someone form industry rather than from academia, someone who is less constrained by the peculiarities of old ways of doing things and is ready to apply new thinking to current challenges that are transforming the way we understand the university and its relationship to its internal and external stakeholders

    f. someone who values diversity--racial, religious, ethnic, gender, etc.--not just for students and not just as a matter of saying the right thing but one who has a proven track record of making good on this with respect to students and faculty and administration.

    g. someone who is an innovator, someone who is not afraid to go beyond the benchmark, someone who has a clear vision, tempered by reality but is not a mere industry follower. There is almost no one worse for us now than someone who is incapable of acting unless there is a benchmark to support his or her decision.  That kind of passive and reactive managerial approach might have been suitable for more placid times but is wholly inappropriate now.

    h. someone committed in effective ways to transparency and engagement of stakeholders, not just as a matter of form--providing more information more often, but genuine engagement in decisions before they are made.

    i. someone with a demonstrated high sense of integrity--not merely as a formal matter but with a track record of showing integrity, which includes high ethics standards and a willingness that is demonstrable to be accountable both to superiors (the board) and to stakeholders (administrators and faculty and students and alumni). In that respect a tangible showing of this integrity commitment would be a commitment to full 360 degree review for purposes fo accountability assessment of effectiveness.

    j. someone committed strongly to the tenure system and academic freedom and to be as strongly committed to protect faculty against reprisal for what they write or say or how they engage in governance. As important the president ought to respect the university's commitment ot fixed term faculty and tp preserve the dignity of their employment status. 
 k.  someone with sufficient strength of character that he or she is neither afraid to surround themselves with strong and capable subordinates, but who cultivates in his or her team  the practice of telling the president what they may not want to hear.  The temptations of cronyism and of surrounding oneself with sycophants, more eager to advance their own careers and please their master by telling him or her what they want to hear is far too great.
 I hope each of you also add your own thoughts and ideas about the qualities necessary in our next President.  More importantly, I hope that discussion can sustain the even more important commitment of our faculty, students and staff to engaged participation in the shared governance of this institution, and contributes to the deepening of cultures of effective and timely contributions to the life of the university.  

Additional information:

· Both the Trustee Presidential Selection Council and the University Presidential Search and Screen Committee have been formally charged. The Trustee Presidential Selection Council is being chaired by Karen Peetz; the University Presidential Search and Screen Committee is being chaired by Nan Crouter, with Dan Hagen serving as vice chair.

· Isaacson, Miller, an executive search firm, is assisting the University in this effort.

· A presidential search site has been established, and we encourage people to visit the site frequently for updates and information. That site is

· The search site has a link, “Presidential Search Firm – Isaacson, Miller,” that contains information on how individuals can nominate a candidate as well as provide thoughtful input that could be assistive in the process. That information goes directly to Isaacson, Miller.

· In addition to the information submitted via the web-site, Isaacson, Miller spent time at University Park recently holding scoping meetings with various individuals and groups to help clarify the challenges and opportunities facing the next president, as well as helping to identify the key attributes and traits that are important in our next leader.

· Open forums for students, faculty and staff were recently held at University Park, and a similar offering of forums is being offered at two campuses for regional campus participation.

· The information gained from the on-line submissions, scoping meetings, and open forums will be critical as Isaacson, Miller develops a position profile that will help provide contextual information as they reach out to potential candidates.

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