Headhunting firm helps find new Hopkins president

March 13, 1995|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,Sun Staff Writer

A panel searching for a successor to William C. Richardson, president of the Johns Hopkins University, has retained a Chicago headhunting firm to help sort through candidates and has sent out letters to college presidents across the country asking for nominations.

Hedrick & Struggles, which is based in Chicago, will help the 19-member search committee winnow down candidates, said Morris W. Offit, chairman of Hopkins' board of trustees.

The American Association of University Professors has denounced the practice, saying it leads to candidates whose strengths lie in the financial realm rather than the world of academic values.

But William Chase, who became president of Emory University in Atlanta last summer after a search guided by Hedrick & Struggles, said the headhunting firms help to maintain much-needed confidentiality throughout a delicate courtship.

"Many people are concerned . . . that a direct call from a search committee might expose them through publicity to the wrong kind of attention on their home campuses," said Dr. Chase, former president of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.

While Mr. Offit had suggested in January that the committee might lean toward someone with strong business credentials, he indicated earlier this week that the new president would likely be someone with significant experience as an academic administrator.

"It's not necessary for this person to be a world-class scholar," Mr. Offit said. "The odds are that it'll be someone who's come through the academic ranks, the role of a dean, a chair of a department, or as a scientist."

Freshman Joey Crawford, the lone undergraduate on the search panel, said several deans had asked the committee to name a president with strong academic credentials. "Reporting to someone who doesn't have that type of background, that would be more difficult" for faculty, Mr. Crawford said.

Other search committee members said the ideal attributes include polished fund-raising and lobbying skills -- specialties of Dr. Richardson, a former senior administrator at the Pennsylvania State University who has a degree in the economics of health care management. Dr. Richardson's departure June 15 leaves the school's 6-month-old, $900 million fund-raising drive without its expected leader.

But that does not rule out top officials from government agencies or scientific institutes for the job. According to the National Science Foundation, Hopkins receives more federal dollars annually than any other American university. Because of that, trustees said they need a president who understands how to manage a $1.5 billion enterprise and how to lobby Capitol Hill for research dollars.

Those who have served in federal office -- particularly in fields related to science or medicine -- become appealing candidates, several people involved with presidential searches at Hopkins and elsewhere said.

The process is conducted largely behind closed doors, but members of the 19-member search committee have already canvassed faculty at Hopkins' Homewood and East Baltimore campuses for suggestions on presidential qualities and candidates. Spurred by a small but vocal protest at a Feb. 13 meeting with faculty by students who felt shut out of the selection process, trustees set up a meeting with students as well.

Roughly 25 students met with four members of the search committee yesterday afternoon in the Garrett Room at Hopkins' Eisenhower Library to offer thoughts on the qualities of the new president.

Toward its close, the 90-minute session became moderately contentious as several students pressed Michael R. Bloomberg, vice chairman of the board of trustees, to justify tuition levels and to commit the university to improving the quality of instruction and the quality of life on campus. Next year's tuition will rise to $19,750, a 5.1 percent increase over this year's rate. Estimated total cost will hit $28,250, up 4.5 percent from this year.

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