Do you know anyone who would be a good nominee to serve as Kansas University’s 17th chancellor?
Currently, those serving on the 18-member official KU search committee are supposed to be scouring the country trying to identify a number of individuals who have the experience, knowledge, judgment, vision, enthusiasm, charisma, courage and leadership skills to move into Strong Hall’s chancellor’s office.
In addition to the search committee, a professional headhunter has been hired to look for nominees.
According to various individuals closely involved in similar search efforts, the best odds of locating and landing a truly top-flight chancellor or president comes from the work of those on the search committee, not the highly paid professionals.
Of course, a lot depends on the quality and commitment of those hand-picked to serve on the search committee. The KU committee is a collection of individuals recommended by the KU Endowment Association, the KU Alumni Association, a faculty committee and the administration. This being the case, the university collectively selects a “safe” search committee and, in so doing, colors the effort because these individuals know what the university wants and what it is comfortable with.
At Colorado State University, where a search for a new chancellor is under way, officials decided not to have a search firm, which would have cost approximately $100,000. Instead, they hired a consultant to advise them on what types of individuals to place on their search committee. As a result, they ended up with a number of true heavyweights to search, recruit and find the right individual to lead their university.
One of the keys is to have some people on the search committee, whether it is for Colorado State, KU or any other school, who have firsthand knowledge of what it takes to be a good chancellor, ideally one or more who has served as a chancellor or president. This is why the recent search process at West Virginia University was so strong. There were three former university presidents on that school’s search team.
A Colorado State spokesman said, “The search for a new leader of the CSU system is a matter of great importance and opportunity for the CSU community. The committee members were selected for their value and understanding of CSU’s contribution to the state and their professional acumen to conduct the search with integrity and efficiency.”
The CSU consultant emphasized the importance of maintaining as much secrecy as possible during the search process. He said good leaders do not want their current employers to know they are looking for a job elsewhere.
When a school goes public, the process can become a beauty-like contest where finalists are paraded before faculty and student groups to receive either a thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote.
Hopefully, those at KU who make the final decision about how the search process will evolve will avoid or minimize the “beauty contest” or “livestock show” aspect of the final selection.
This writer realizes some may say enough already has been said or written about the search for a KU chancellor. Why continue writing about it?
The reason is that the selection of KU’s next chancellor cannot be emphasized enough. It is one of the most important actions to be taken in the state this year or for a number of years.
A university, or a state, doesn’t have many opportunities to hire a chancellor. There have been only 16 chancellors since KU opened in 1866.
Generally speaking, most of those who have served in this position have done a good job. Each faced conditions or circumstances — economic, political, wars or other situations — that colored or influenced their time and success in the chancellor’s office.
Nevertheless, even with a multitude of challenges, KU has enjoyed the services and commitment of a number of top-flight executives, some better than others.
KU needs a tremendous leader, an individual who merits and justifies the respect and admiration of faculty, students, alumni and state legislators.
It needs a skilled and talented leader, an excellent communicator, a visionary who can inspire faculty, students, alumni and other interested parties to seek the very best for the school and the state.
The opportunities for the university and its chancellor are great, and those on the search committee will set the standard by the quality of individuals they try to recruit. They need to find the individuals who, until now, really didn’t have any idea about going after the KU job. But someone on the search committee identified them as people who might make a truly outstanding chancellor, whether they now are employed in an educational endeavor, in private business in politics or some other occupation.
Once identified, someone from the search committee needs to recruit that individual to be a candidate just as hard and effectively as a KU coach goes after a true “blue-chip” or “five-star” athlete.
This is where those interested in the future of KU come into the picture. Surely a number of alumni and friends know individuals who might be a superior chancellor.
If they do, they should pass the names of such people along to the chairman of the search committee, Drue Jennings of Kansas City, or to Reggie Robinson, president and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents in Topeka.
As several in the business of finding and hiring new chancellors/presidents have said, it is a mistake to rely too much on the professional headhunters.
They tell all their clients they will do a superior job, tailored to meeting the requirements of whomever has hired them, but the best candidates often are identified by those serving on the search committee.
KU and Kansas cannot afford an average chancellor; they should strive for the very best. If this effort is successful, it will pay dividends for the institution, the state and its residents for years to come.
A mediocre selection will handicap the school and the state for many years.