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Saturday, December 03, 2022

Presidential searches around the nation reflect UF’s own

Desired presidential qualities vary, but secrecy remains consistent

<p>UF President Kent Fuchs addresses the Board of Trustees in 2020. He announced he would step down from his role at the beginning of the Spring semester. </p>

UF President Kent Fuchs addresses the Board of Trustees in 2020. He announced he would step down from his role at the beginning of the Spring semester.

UF’s ongoing secretive presidential search follows similar private searches at other institutions, a reflection of shifting national dynamics as search firms encourage confidentiality.  .

In the past two years, institutions such as Harvard University, State University of New York at Oswego, Pennsylvania State University and Temple University have undergone or are undergoing their own presidential searches. While prioritized qualifications vary based on the community’s needs, the searches’ similarities, and secrecy, can be seen across the nation. 

Little is known about UF’s search as it enters its fourth month. Public record bills passed in March permit the names of Florida schools’ presidential candidates to remain private; the list of presidential candidates is released only 21 days prior to the official selection of the new university president. 

UF’s search began in March, three months after UF President Kent Fuchs announced he would resign from his position to become a professor of electrical and computer engineering. 

UF’s Board of Trustees chose SP&A Executive Search, a search firm specializing in serving higher education sectors, because of its experience conducting Florida State University’s and the University of South Florida’s presidential searches, UF Board of Trustees member Tom Kuntz said. Search firms have become increasingly popular in recent years, and they often advise universities to keep the search confidential to recruit candidates without jeopardizing their current positions at other universities. 

In a UF presidential search listening session May 24, Andrew Treadwell, Indian River State College’s Pruitt Campus president and UF alumnus, said UF’s next president should have the traditional academic background and understand the duties of a tier-one research institution, a university highly focused on research.

The candidate should also have interpersonal skills, such as philanthropy and fundraising prowess, and be an expert communicator with media, faculty and students, Treadwell said.

“You’re looking for a unicorn in today’s day and age,” Treadwell said. 

Nina Jablonski, an anthropology professor at Penn State and member of the search committee, said the election process at her university was similarly secretive. Everyone on the 2021 presidential search committee had to sign a confidentiality agreement. 

“The search committee took this very seriously because we knew that a leak could entirely derail and delegitimize the process,” she wrote in an email. 

Penn State sought a president with a holistic understanding of academia; it wanted someone equipped to deal with multi-campus research and teaching institutions, Jablonski said. Penn State has 20 undergrad campuses, and the university wanted someone who could sufficiently manage them all. Neeli Bendapudi, former president of the University of Louisville, was named Penn State’s 19th president May 9. 

Similarly, in February 2021, Temple’s presidential search committee said its ideal candidate  should focus on students’ needs and have experience managing large, complex organizations. Mitchell Morgan, Board of Trustees Chairman at Temple, said its next president should have significant fundraising experience. Jason Wingard was selected to be Temple’s 12th president in June 2021.

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SUNY Oswego’s search began in November 2021 after President Deborah F. Stanley announced she would retire after 26 years in the position in May 2021. Oswego said its next president should be innovative and put the students first. Oswego has not released a list of candidates. 

Harvard President Larry Bacow announced last month he would step down from his role, and the names of the search committee were announced Thursday. 

As more students return to campus for Summer and Fall classes, information on UF’s search remains hidden, but its rival schools may offer an expected timeline. FSU released a list of 22 applicants May 10, 2021; Richard McCullough, the former vice provost of research at Harvard University, was named president two weeks later.

Contact Lindsay Schindler at lschindler@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @lindsschindler.

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