When the campus committee to search for a new Georgia Southern University president is named, members will face an important preliminary decision, whether to conduct an open search or a confidential one.
An open search, like the one that followed Dr. Brooks Keel’s departure as Georgia Southern president in mid-2015, would bring several candidates to campus to appear in public forums. But none of the five semifinalists who spoke in the forums in the spring of 2016 had been president of a university. One was a law school dean and most, including Dr. Jaimie Hebert, who was then selected by the Board of Regents for the job, were provosts and vice presidents, second-in-command at universities.
Hebert’s departure after two years, which took him through the heat of the consolidation of Armstrong State University into Georgia Southern, sets the stage for a new search. A confidential search, with the committee doing “airport interviews” in a hotel somewhere, with no public forums and with the regents then announcing just one or two finalists, could have certain advantages, interim GS President Shelley C. Nickel said in an interview this week.
“That takes less time, to do it that way,” Nickel said. “I think you probably just saw the Kennesaw search was announced in February and they have a president starting mid-July, so it’s a fairly condensed timeline from the big open searches.”
Dr. Pamela Whitten was chosen by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia in June to be the new Kennesaw State University president. Nickel knows about these things because in her previous job, to which she hopes to return, she is the university system’s executive vice chancellor for strategy and fiscal affairs.
For the interview with Nickel, the Statesboro Herald submitted questions a day in advance. One of the questions noted the lack of any 2016 semifinalists who were presidents.
‘A better pool’
“The pro of the confidential search, what we’ve found is that you typically get a better pool of people because you can get sitting presidents who may not want their current employees or bosses to know that they’re looking for a new job,” Nickel said. “So the pool is usually better when it is a confidential search.
“That’s what we have found in the last several that we’ve done, and all of our research university searches are done confidentially; our R-1’s all conduct confidential interviews,” she said.
The state’s four highest-level research universities – the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University and Augusta University – must, by regents’ policy, use a confidential presidential search process.
In the system’s 22 other institutions, the appointed campus committee gets to decide what kind of search to do.
Nickel was also asked what qualities and qualifications the university system will be looking for in the next GS president.
“Well, let me first say I think this will be a very good search. I believe we’ll get a lot of really good candidates,” Nickel said. “I think since the consolidation has been completed, people will be interested in taking the university into the next level. …”
“I would say that the board will be looking for a very experienced administrator, somebody who understands academia, who understands what it’s like to run a three-campus operation and be able to look at the economy in the whole region and be able to find the right mix of programs for the region to actually be able to grow the economy,” she said.
But first, university system Chancellor Steve Wrigley has to appoint the search committee, and will probably do that this fall, Nickel said. It will be made up mostly of Georgia Southern faculty members, but also some staff members and a student.
The committee’s job will be to conduct the search, which is usually done with the help of a search firm, and deliver a list of three to five candidates to the Board of Regents. Only the regents, who will have a committee of their own for final interviews, can choose the university president.
Meanwhile, Nickel is interim president, and said her term will last “as long as the search takes, and it could be as short as January, or however long it takes.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.