KU's 16th chancellor, Robert Hemenway, announced Dec. 8, 2008, that he would retire at the end of the current academic year. He's been chancellor for 14 years.
Recent searches for top academic administrators throughout the region reveal a willingness for some institutions to hire people outside the world of academia to lead universities.
Searches for top-level university executives for the University of Missouri system, Texas Tech University and Oklahoma State University all resulted in people with different backgrounds becoming top executives. The Kansas Board of Regents will soon start its search for a successor to Chancellor Robert Hemenway, who announced his resignation on Monday, effective June 30.
Oklahoma State picked a civic and business leader and an old member of the Board of Regents that oversees its university.
The University of Missouri system, which oversees four different campuses statewide, picked a former telecommunications CEO.
Texas Tech chose someone more traditional, naming the chancellor of UMKC to take over earlier this year.
“There’s a trend away from the traditional faculty progression into the presidency,” said Joe Hall, a member of the Oklahoma Board of Regents, which selected Burns Hargis as the Oklahoma State president in December 2007.
Hargis, a trained lawyer, had served as the vice president of a bank, in addition to being a former regent. The faculty of the university initially balked at hiring someone without a doctoral degree, Hall said.
“Some didn’t feel like that was a terminal degree,” Hall said. “In the end, the faculty were one of his biggest supporters.”
Hall said the search attracted many applicants with rich academic backgrounds, including a top executive at William & Mary, businessmen and politicians, including former governors.
“We saw a lot more interest from the private sector” than in previous searches, Hall said.
During KU’s last search for a chancellor 14 years ago, members of the faculty voiced their preference for someone with a doctoral degree. Former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker was a potential candidate but withdrew her name from consideration because of issues raised about her academic background.
At Texas Tech University, an academic background was a top priority for the president of the Texas Tech campus, said Robert Baker, a professor on the search committee.
At Texas Tech, a separate chancellor oversees several different campuses in the system, including Texas Tech University, the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center and Angelo State University, each of which has its own president.
Baker said the chancellor, Kent Hance, a former congressman and state senator, handles most of the fundraising activity for the system, along with other duties.
The new president, former UMKC Chancellor Guy Bailey, must deal with academics, athletics and everything else going on at the Lubbock campus, Baker said.
Finding exactly the right person for any top job can be difficult, he said.
“There’s nobody that’s got everything you need for everything,” Baker said. “It’s tough to lead a university from the top down.”
Both Texas Tech and the University of Missouri systems used national search firms to assist with the search. Kansas’ Board of Regents did the same with the recent search to replace Kansas State University President Jon Wefald.
When a vacancy came open atop the University of Missouri system, the focus right away was on someone with CEO-type experience, said Frank Schmidt, a professor of biochemistry on the system’s Columbia campus.
Schmidt, who served as chairman of the screening committee for the applicants for the search, said the focus on a business-oriented person was a break from tradition for the system, which had typically tapped an academic for its leader.
The system’s Board of Curators chose Gary Forsee, the former Sprint CEO.
“That’s always the problem when you’re bringing in someone from outside,” Schmidt said. “You’ve got to know the territory, as the Music Man says, and they don’t always.”
The committee also looked at candidates such as U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, who recently lost a bid to become Missouri’s governor, and other business executives, along with the usual academics and an internal candidate.
The process can be long and drawn out, Schmidt said, sometimes requiring an interim president to step in.
“It wasn’t easy. It took a solid year before they got Gary Forsee to sign on the dotted line,” Schmidt said.