Board of Trustees recap for Nov. 2: Trustees charge Presidential Search Advisory Committee

Western Today staff

[ Editor’s Note: After each Board of Trustees meeting, Western Today provides a recap of decisions and discussion. ]

Western’s Board of Trustees on Nov. 2 charged – or entrusted with its duties and responsibilities – the Presidential Search Advisory Committee as it assists the trustees with the search for Western’s next president. Listen to the meeting here.

In June, President Bruce Shepard announced his retirement effective at the end of the current academic year, and the trustees are conducting a search for his successor. The trustees hope to appoint Western’s next president in March 2016.

Trustee Sue Sharpe, chair of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee, welcomed new committee members, and introduced them to trustees, who thanked them for their willingness to serve.

Sharpe also thanked the Faculty Senate, Professional Staff Organization and classified unions (Washington Federation of State Employees and Public School Employees) for their nominations to the committee, which reflects a broad cross-section of the Western community both on and off campus, including faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, friends and other stakeholders.

The committee’s initial task will be to develop a list of qualifications and characteristics the next president should possess, based on feedback received from the on- and off-campus Western community through open forums and online stakeholder surveys. After receiving the report of the committee regarding potential presidential qualifications, the trustees will adopt criteria to be applied by the committee in evaluating and interviewing candidates.

Within the timeframe established by the Board of Trustees chair and committee chair, the committee will submit to the board a list of all candidates who meet the minimum qualifications along with the committee’s unranked recommendation of three to five candidates for the board to consider inviting for final interviews.

The trustees also heard from Jan Greenwood, president and partner with Greenwood/Asher & Associates, a leading national search firm specializing in higher education that will assist and advise Western’s presidential search.

Greenwood, whose firm also assisted with the search that led to Bruce Shepard becoming Western’s president, reviewed how her firm will be helping the search committee and trustees. She praised participation in Western’s online surveys – with more than 500 responses so far, which “demonstrates strong commitment to the university.” Greenwood said that is the best response to an online survey her firm has ever seen.

In addition to the survey, feedback is also being sought at campus forums.

Greenwood also described the changing market for university presidents. With demographic change, there are fewer sitting presidents and provosts seeking another job – rather than retirement. So more deans at major research universities are stepping into university president or provost jobs. But those deans are not as experienced in campus wide leadership.

Greenwood differentiated between public and confidential searches, which she said are “highly debated” nationally. The two approaches yield different results, she said.

A confidential process, in which the identities of finalists are not made public, is most likely to attract the type of well-qualified candidates Western is interested in, Greenwood said. A public process, in which finalists’ identities are made public “doesn’t get you the talent pool you will in a confidential process,” she said.

For instance, if sitting presidents’ identities in a search become known at their current institutions, they could risk being fired, damaging their credibility with their state legislature or scaring off potential big donors to their school. That has a chilling effect on their willingness to even apply.

In contrast, a confidential search – like the one that led to Bruce Shepard being hired – allows top candidates to apply without fear of risking their current positions.

And Greenwood recommended strong transition planning, to ensure the best and smoothest possible transition of presidents. Following a successful president, such as Bruce Shepard, can be a challenge for a new president. Shepard, Greenwood said, is viewed as a “leader among leaders” among those in higher education nationally.

Trustees also discussed briefly some of the attributes they would like to see in a new university president, including the ability to adapt to a changing higher education environment; ability to build on the transparent and collaborative campus culture that President Shepard has nurtured; willingness to engage in the Bellingham community; desire to reach out to diverse and under-served undergraduate populations; strategic leadership skills; and a committed focus on the liberal arts core.

To remain current on the search for Western’s next president, visit the Presidential Search website.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 - 11:19am