Search to begin for new College Park president Student, faculty input to start this week

January 05, 1998|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer David Folkenflik contributed to this article.

The search for a replacement for William E. Kirwan, president of the University of Maryland, College Park, will kick into high gear this week with student and faculty forums, the first step in a process that is expected to culminate by July 1.

Kirwan is scheduled to be named president of Ohio State University today, replacing E. Gordon Gee, officials at both universities said yesterday.

"It is my understanding that Dr. Kirwan has accepted Ohio State's offer or will," said Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, who spoke to Kirwan about the job Saturday.

Officials said their nationwide search will seek candidates who are presidents at top public research-oriented schools.

It is expected to be the most high-profile and intensive search for a college president in the state since Kirwan was chosen in 1989 take over the 33,000-student school, the flagship of the University of Maryland's 11-campus system.

Searchers will compile names of more than 100 of the nation's top educators, a dozen of whom will be invited to visit the campus before the list is whittled to five finalists.

Like 'brokering a marriage'

"A presidential search process is not unlike the process of brokering a marriage," said Langenberg. "The process includes looking at some of the difficult-to-quantify things -- things called 'chemistry.' If the chemistry ain't there, the marriage won't work."

The process of brokering such a marriage wasn't formalized in Maryland until 1991, two years after Kirwan was chosen and the year Langenberg became chancellor.

"There really weren't any written or established guidelines," Langenberg said.

Presidential searches, therefore, tended to vary from search to search, he said.

With the average tenure of a college president about five to seven years, Langenberg said he wanted to tighten the university's selection process so that it honed in on excellent candidates who would stay in their jobs more than a few years.

"It was obvious to me that it would be a good idea to have some well-established written guidelines so we wouldn't have to invent them every year," he said.

Method of the search

The guidelines Langenberg helped establish spell out how the university looks for presidents, and they have been used to select seven presidents at university system campuses.

The process begins with a series of forums with students, faculty and other staff, who are asked to list the characteristics they'd like in a new president.

Also, a 12- to 15-person committee leads the search, its members consisting mostly of faculty members, plus students, one or two members of the board of regents, and representatives of the administration and the alumni association. The committee will likely hire an executive search firm or consultant.

The student and faculty forums will be scheduled this week, and the search committee will be appointed soon afterward.

Officials hope the search will end within six months, although some universities spend a year to 18 months looking for a president.

"You don't want to string it out too long, because you kind of bring your process to a halt and a lethargy sets in," said Lance Billingsly, chairman of the board of regents.

The past two presidential searches -- for the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and for Salisbury State University -- each took less than five months.

College Park will consider candidates already in the university system for the $200,000-a-year job. Of the seven presidential appointments in the system since 1991, two have been promoted from within.

'Clicking' is crucial

However, a state official said she thinks the new president will not be promoted from within the school. "I frankly don't see anyone on the inside to step up the way Brit [Kirwan] did," said Patricia S. Florestano, the state's secretary for higher education and a former lobbyist for the University System of Maryland. "I think the next president will come from the outside."

Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, had been vice provost when he was selected as president in 1993.

Hrabowski said the crucial test for a presidential candidate is clicking with the faculty, students and staff.

"No group is more important than the internal constituency," he said. "The new person has to be accepted by their colleagues."

Gaining faculty and staff approval was one of the key provisions of the 1991 guidelines.

Pub Date: 1/05/98

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