The campus committee received its charge Wednesday to begin the search for Georgia Southern University’s next president. University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley encouraged the committee to deliver a list of three to five qualified candidates before Christmas.
He and others also strongly suggested that the 18-member committee choose a “confidential search” method, abandoning Georgia Southern’s previous “open” practice of introducing several selected candidates to the public in campus forums.
“I will tell you right now that I’d love to see you have candidates to us before Christmas,” Wrigley told the committee. “It’s a little over three months. Most of our presidential searches are now taking three or four months.”
The timeframe is not binding. But his instructions that the campus-based Presidential Search and Screen Committee send the University System Board of Regents’ own committee an unranked list of at least three and no more than five qualified candidates conveyed a regents’ mandate.
Ultimately, the Board of Regents will decide whom to hire as Georgia Southern University president, on Wrigley’s recommendation.
Whether an open search with meet-the-finalists public forums or a confidential search with no forums is conducted first remained the committee’s decision, he said.
The last open-search process, launched after then-GS President Brooks Keel, Ph.D., left in mid-2015 to become president of Augusta University, resulted in public forums for five semifinalists, none of whom were university presidents at the time, in early 2016. One was a law school dean and most, including Dr. Jaimie Hebert, who was selected by the regents for the job, were provosts and vice presidents, second-in-command at universities.
After two years as Georgia Southern president, which took him through the regents-ordered consolidation with Armstrong State University, Hebert resigned effective July 1 to be provost and vice president of academic affairs of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.
Shelley C. Nickel, previously Georgia’s university system executive vice chancellor for strategy and fiscal affairs, is now serving as Georgia Southern’s interim president. In her first Statesboro Herald interview earlier this summer, Nickel said that a confidential process, without forums introducing finalists to the public, tends to result in a better pool of applicants “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.”
Wrigley repeated that message Wednesday when he met with committee members in the Nessmith-Lane Conference Center ballroom on the Statesboro campus.
“I will tell you up front I think at an institution this large, this complex, seeking the kind of person you’re seeking, which you describe, I would strongly urge you to consider having a confidential search process,” Wrigley said.
The state’s 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. Other schools in the system, from Georgia Southern with its three campuses and more than 25,000 students down to the smallest, get to choose which kind of process to use.
In either approach, confidentiality for the applicants is required while they are reviewed and interviewed by the search firm and committee. But the process traditionally used at Georgia Southern reveals finalists or semifinalists to the public before the committee sends its list to the regents.
“We need sitting presidents to apply for this position,” Wrigley told the committee.
But for many, not getting hired after a public process could place their job “in jeopardy at the institution where they are,” he said.
Using a confidential process, the search for a new president for Kennesaw State University earlier this year drew 11 sitting presidents as applicants initially, Wrigley said. The three- to four-month result he spoke of also requires a confidential process, which is faster, he added.
Wrigley, regents and members of their staff left after he spoke, but Lucy Leske from the regents-selected search firm Witt/Kieffer Inc. stayed to talk to the committee.
“Confidential processes also enable, ironically, more internal candidates to look at the job,” was one of the things she said on the subject.
However, some committee members spoke of a tradeoff. The advantage of the process with candidate forums is that “we can get feedback from more than just this committee,” said Suzanne “Suzy” Carpenter, an associate professor of chemistry.
“That’s what we lose when we keep the system closed and confidential,” she said.
Luther “Trey” Denton, Ph.D., a professor of marketing, said the committee would take “a lot of heat on campus” if it chose a fully confidential process. But he also noted that he had been involved in two of the last three presidential searches and said that in all three searches combined, only one sitting president was brought to campus as a candidate.
“Not many people dropped out of our searches, but there weren’t any presidents,” Denton said.
Current search committee chair Dustin Anderson, Ph.D., told members they would take a vote Wednesday on the kind of search but not announce a decision. Anderson, an associate professor of literature, is also president of Georgia Southern’s Faculty Senate.
On the phone later, he said a vote was taken but that the decision will be announced so that everyone across the three campuses will receive the same information.
In any case, the committee is expected to hold campus forums this fall to gather input on the qualities and qualifications desired in the next GS president.
“Regardless of the search type, there wouldn’t be any reason that we wouldn’t be running forums to gather information from our stakeholders, right?” Anderson said. “So from our alumni and our donors, our students, our staff and our faculty, we’re going to be finding ways to gather information on what they see the appropriate values of a president are and the kinds of projects they’d like to see a president undertake.”
One new challenge will be scheduling these for the Armstrong and Liberty campuses as well as the Statesboro campus, he said.
Regent Laura Marsh of Statesboro chairs the separate, seven-member Regents Special Committee that will receive the list of three to five candidates.
“I do believe a confidential search would be an outstanding choice because Georgia Southern has gotten so large,” Marsh said. “I mean we’re a huge, comprehensive institution with multiple campuses, and we are truly looking for a leader who is a visionary and understands the opportunity that this presents for Southeast Georgia both educationally and economically.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.