The Commercial Appeal
Top universities seek new leaders
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Wanted: chief executive to oversee a multibillion-dollar enterprise that employs thousands, educates tens of thousands, pushes cuttingedge research and medical care, and fields nationalcaliber sports teams that are often a headline or two away from controversy.
Must be skilled at fundraising and political tightrope walking and have an appreciation for funnylooking mascots. Working 24/7 is expected; ability to walk on water is a plus.
“The joke is frequently told in these searches that you’re looking for God on a good day,” said Tom Poole, vice president of administration at Penn State and executive secretary of the university’s search for a new president.
At Penn State, Rodney Erickson will leave in a year, triggering a search for a successor who, on top of the regular responsibilities of running such a big university, must also deal with the ongoing aftermath of the sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Erickson took over in 2011 after former university President Graham Spanier was forced out.
In Ann Arbor, University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman announced in April that she would step down in July 2014.
Ohio State President Gordon Gee retires Monday after his second stint as OSU president for a total of 15 years in Columbus. He announced his retirement last month just days after The Associated Press first reported on remarks he’d made months earlier jabbing Roman Catholics and Notre Dame and de- meaning the academic integrity of Southeastern Conference schools.
The Ohio State provost has been tapped as interim president.
Any of the responsibilities of a modern research university president would be enough for one person — whether it’s building strong academic programs for undergraduates or running a university hospital system.
The combined duties can seem staggering.
Penn State, with a $4.3 billion annual budget, has a total of about 85,000 students, including undergrad, graduate and professionals, spread over 24 campuses.
The University of Michigan Health System alone has more than 26,000 faculty and staff, 120 clinics and offices throughout Michigan and northern Ohio, and $490 million in research funding.
Ohio State, with a $5.2 billion budget and more than 63,000 students, has 168 undergraduate majors, 93 doctoral programs and seven professional programs, including the medical, law and pharmacy schools.
When considering candidates, it helps to brainstorm about the skills a new leader should bring to the job, even if the results seem far-fetched at times, said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education.
“Talking about what in the ideal world the next president could be and do, you get a long list that you think amounts to ‘walks on water,’” said Broad, former president of the University of North Carolina.
“But it’s a process that helps you formulate in your mind, among all these important potentials, which ones are absolutely essential,” she said.