The 18-member campus committee received its working orders Wednesday morning, not to name the next president of Georgia Southern University, but to identify three to five individuals – no more and no less – who would be acceptable in that post.
“Your charge from me and the chair is to recommend, nominate, three to five candidates, unranked, any one of whom you would be happy to have as president of this institution,” Chancellor Hank Huckaby told the committee. “It’s not two. It’s not six. It’s three to five.”
Huckaby, the University System of Georgia’s chief executive, spoke to the group in a sunny end room at the Nessmith Lane Conference Center on the GSU campus in Statesboro. Often during university president searches, he said, his staff will get a call from the campus committee that there are “really only two” acceptable candidates, or that there are six “super” candidates. In either case, the committee will be instructed to “get back to work,” he said.
The reason, Huckaby said, is to supply a range of qualified candidates to the separate regents committee, which will interview the candidates and make a recommendation to the full Board of Regents. The full board then decides whom to hire.
Contrary to rumor
In remarks to the campus committee, Huckaby said he had heard, during his drive to Statesboro, about a rumor “in the community and in the faculty and staff” that officials already know who the next GSU president will be.
“Sadly, we live in a time when we like to be conspirators, so we think there’s a conspiracy behind everything. If you all know who the next president will be, please let us know, so we can save a lot of time and money,” Huckaby said, to some laughter.
“But let me assure you,” he added, “that is absolutely not true.”
Addressing another campus concern, Huckaby told committee members, “Assure your colleagues that if their department or their office did not get represented on the committee, not to despair because you can be their voice.”
Noting that the committee is a big one, he said that an even larger committee would have been hard to manage.
“You’re not here to represent the biology department, the math department, whatever,” he told members. “You’re here to look at what’s needed for the university.”Regents Chairman Neil L. Pruitt Jr. and 12th District Regent Lori Durden, the GSU alumna and Statesboro resident who leads the seven-member regents’ committee, also attended. But after about an hour, the regents and chancellor departed, leaving the nationwide search to the campus committee that includes GSU professors, staff members, Statesboro-area alumni and the president of the Student Government Association.
An Atlanta-based firm, Parker Executive Search, is assisting them. Executive Vice Chancellor Steve Wrigley will work with the committee in a supporting role, he said. But Huckaby said his own role was finished until there are candidates to present to the regents’ committee.
“My purpose here is to give the committee a charge, what we expect them to do and how to work, and they will get their ideas on the table of what characteristics they want to see in the next president,” he said going into the meeting. “So, quite frankly, when I walk out of the room today, I’m out of the process.”
With reporters present, committee members around the table stated in very general terms what they hope to see in a university president. A couple of the members had answered the same question in brief interviews.
“I hope that we can find somebody that will continue to focus on academics, promote the economy in this area, and more than anything continue to promote our athletic program, because it’s been a driver in our economy here and it’s been a driver for student involvement, and so I’m hoping the person can fit all of those,” said Darron Burnette, president and CEO of Sea Island Bank.
Burnette, a Georgia Southern alumnus with two daughters now there as students, is also secretary to the Georgia Southern Athletic Foundation.
Barbara Christmas Golden, chair of the Georgia Southern University Foundation board, is also an alumna, and former executive director of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.
She said she wants much the same skill set Burnette suggested, but someone who will also show leadership for the arts, as well as academics and athletics.
“I’m expecting that we’ll have some great applicants because Georgia Southern is a premier university now, and I think it’s a very attractive presidency for outstanding college presidents, so I think we’ll have some fantastic applicants,” Christmas said.
Professor Stephen Vives, also chairman of the GSU biology department, is chairing the campus-based search committee.
“I think we’re all excited to work on the search process,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate to have strong and effective leadership, so because of that we’ve got a great story to tell, and I’m certain that we’re going to get a strong applicant pool.”
Huckaby told the committee that concluding the selection process by the end February should ensure that a new president can be in place by July.
All of the committee’s discussions of individual candidates are to remain confidential, Wrigley emphasized. But, under a provision of the Georgia Open Records Act, all documents on “as many as three persons” considered as best qualified by the hiring agency must be released before a final vote.
Wrigley differentiated these “finalists,” whom only the regents can choose, from “candidates” to be selected by the committee.
During the selection of presidents for Georgia universities, more than three candidates have sometimes been introduced to the campus and community. Before previous GSU President Brooks Keel was hired, six candidates publicly visited Statesboro in fall 2009.
“Typically that’s what happens, there’ll be open forums on campus,” Huckaby said in an interview. “Each committee does things a little differently, but yes, there will be an opportunity for faculty and community to look over the potential candidate.”
Vives said he hopes to let the faculty and others know more in one or two weeks about the process to be used.
Keel left Georgia Southern in July to become president of Georgia Regents University, since renamed Augusta University.