Archive for Saturday, July 19, 2008

Simons: Search for university president is important responsibility

July 19, 2008


Kansas State University officials have launched their search to locate and hire an individual to become the school's president following the retirement of President Jon Wefald.

Wefald recently announced his plan to step aside at the end of the 2008-09 school year after 22 years as head of the university. He has done a superb job, and his record of achievements lends validity to the belief there can indeed be "the right man for the right job at the right time."

Wefald has been the right man at the right time to lead KSU. After 22 years in this demanding position, he recognized there also is a right time for an individual to leave a job rather than staying too long.

Filling the upcoming vacancy is an extremely important task. The traditional practice in Kansas seems to be to have a university put together a search committee to provide the Kansas Board of Regents the names of "X" number of finalists for the job. The regents then make the final selection.

In reality, neither members of the search committee nor the regents really do much in the selection process other than review and screen the recommendations of a "headhunter" firm that is hired to provide a list of possible candidates.

Headhunters maintain lists of possible candidates and make a nice paycheck by trying to fit the names of possible candidates to the needs and expectations of a given university.

Members of the search committee have their own jobs and responsibilities, as do the regents. Both groups have to rely primarily on the headhunter although at least some of those on the search committee are likely to visit the home sites of promising candidates to try to check their references. It's understandable those on a university search committee are going to follow the company line on what kind of individual they search for.

"This search process represents an exciting opportunity for the university and state as a whole," Donna Shank, chairwoman of the Board of Regents, said in the official statement from K-State concerning the search. "The board is fortunate to have such a qualified group of individuals involved in this process, and I certainly look forward to receiving the committee's ultimate recommendations."

What else could she say? She surely wouldn't say it was a poor or mediocre committee. The committee was put together by officials of the university, the alumni association and the endowment association with each appointee knowing the main interests and concerns of the body they represent. Added to this group are several students and representatives from the community.

Hopefully, in addition to being "qualified," those on the committee will be diligent in trying to find outstanding candidates. Hopefully, at least some on the committee will have the time to find several superior individuals to recommend rather than relying solely on the paid headhunters to run their traps and see who is available for the Manhattan job.

Unfortunately, too many search efforts fail to deliver the service the customer deserves. This is true in many college searches, whether they are looking for a new School of Fine Arts dean at Kansas University, a new president at KSU or, when the time comes, a new chancellor at KU.

It's a sad commentary, but it is likely far more time, attention and effort goes into finding and signing a new football or basketball coach than is given in Kansas to filling academic vacancies.

Regents have a huge responsibility but really don't have the time the job requires. They have six universities and a medical school to oversee plus community colleges and vocational-technical schools. They are not paid, and they have other jobs and responsibilities. As one knowledgeable observer noted, "Regents don't have the time to know what's going on on all the campuses. They can't, or don't, spend sufficient time on each campus to have a solid, up-to-date and accurate idea of what is going on. They depend on Reggie Robinson (regents president and CEO) and the chancellors, presidents, provosts and other senior 'company men and women' on each campus to tell them what is going on. Do these individuals level with the regents?"

Kansas residents deserve, and should expect, superior service from those appointed to search committees. This certainly should be the mission of those responsible for selecting a new KSU president. Those on the search committee should perform more as an active, highly motivated recruiting committee, not merely as screeners of a bunch of applications. The regents have no more important responsibility than to get the best possible individuals selected as chancellor or president of the regents universities.

Carelessness in fulfilling this task can handicap a university, as well as the state, for many years.


cato_the_elder 9 years, 6 months ago

I second the author's comments on the outstanding job done by Jon Wefald at K-State. The last chancellor we had here of comparable abilities was Archie Dykes. Despite his later-revealed personal shortcomings, the legislators loved him - he was a regular guy, and he truly held them in the palm of his hand. Wefald has always been astutely sensitive to this and the fact that, believe it or not, K-State is actually a state-supported institution and cannot view itself as an "island of blue in a sea of red," the type of condescending, arrogant, effete and thumb-your-nose-at-the-legislature attitude possessed by far too many individuals presently associated with the University of Kansas.

LloydDobbler 9 years, 6 months ago

I think Dolph was correct about not giving too much power to paid search firms. However, the same process was used to choose Wefald and Hemenway. Think about that...the same process yielded Wefald at K-State and Hemenway at KU. Perhaps the search firms aren't the problem but the search committees at the respective schools. Regarding the Regents, I hope that they have little to do with actually choosing a replacement for Wefald. And when Hemenway's time comes (and it should be soon), I hope that the Regents have little to do with choosing his replacement. They have become a group of unaffected appointees unqualified to oversee the details of running a lemonade stand much less our universities.

not_dolph 9 years, 6 months ago

Cato nailed it. And don't expect anything to change at KU...

LJD230 9 years, 6 months ago

"Regents have a huge responsibility but really don't have the time the job requires. They have six universities and a medical school to oversee plus community colleges and vocational-technical schools. They are not paid, and they have other jobs and responsibilities". So sayeth Dolph. One way in which to relieve the onerous burden carried by the regents might be to reduce their scope of responsibility to KU, KSU, KUMC, the various community colleges and votech schools.Kanas simply can no longer afford to support so many four year universities.

Jim Williamson 9 years, 6 months ago

Jon Wefald left because he doesn't want to be sitting in the big chair when two minority athletic coaches get canned.

penguin 9 years, 6 months ago

Well if the burden is too great they could have always asked to not be appointed by the Governor. The members of the BOR get mileage reimbursement amongst other perks. Also I guess the editorial fails to take into account that there is a full-time paid President (Reggie Robinson) and a pretty extensive office staff with other administrators and the like to handle issues. All the BOR members really have to do is show up once a month for a few days in Topeka and act on the recommendations of the BOR staff. I am pretty sure that the people on the current BOR actually do not feel as burdened by their actual responsibilities as Dolph might want you to believe. As someone who has attended more BOR meetings than I care to count, I can assure you that I have never once heard any complaints from Regents members as those offered in the editorial.It would be good to know the actual workings of the BOR and the incorrect nature of the editorial before suggesting that four year schools be closed. If this were to occur it would be devastating to the communities of Hays, Emporia, and Pittsburg.As to the editorial, I am sure the search committee will do their job. ESU just went through this process about 2 years ago (give or take) and from early indications did a great job. You also all need to remember that the BOR as it is now composed only really came into existance with the passage of SB 345 (Higher Ed Reorganization Act) in 1999. The BOR at the time Wefald and Hemenway were appointed was a much different animal. On a side note: this was also the same legislation that helped create tuition ownership. Prior to this time the per credit hour rate was set by the Kansas Legislature (fees were still in the universities hands).

not_dolph 9 years, 6 months ago

penguin sure seems to know alot about Regent's activities and operations. Insider?

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