March 27, 2017 – Key strengths that made Iowa State President Steven Leath the choice for Auburn University’s next president were his commitment to shared governance, a strong fundraising track record, and an understanding of both the land-grant mission and NCAA Division I athletics, according an executive of the firm handling the search.
Bill Funk, president of the executive search firm R. William Funk and Associates, which was hired to conduct the Auburn University president search, said his firm has conducted more than 400 president and chancellor searches in its 35-year history.
Funk directed the Opelika-Auburn News to an interview he gave to Hunt Scanlon Media, a publication that covers the talent acquisition field, citing time issues.
“It was important to the board and search committee that the next president would have experience in a land-grant university and would understand the complexity of running an institution like Auburn,” Funk said in the Hunt Scanlon article. “It was also important to the board that the next president have an appreciation of the unique culture of Alabama and the South and would value the importance of intercollegiate athletics at a Southeastern Conference school.”
Funk said Auburn University had “outstanding presidential leadership” by current President Jay Gogue in the past nine years.
“Recognizing that Jay had been well-prepared as a two-time president prior to coming to Auburn, the board expressed a preference for a sitting president who could hit the ground running upon arrival at the university,” Funk said.
Committee did a ‘phenomenal job’
The Auburn University board of trustees created a 14-member committee with three board members and representatives of faculty, staff and students.
“Members of the committee met with a number of candidates and identified Dr. Leath as the leading candidate when those interviews concluded,” said Brian Keeter, Auburn University director of public affairs. “Trustees also had the chance to meet informally with Dr. Leath before voting.”
Charles McCrary, Auburn board of trustees pro tempore and CEO of Alabama Power Co., thanked the committee at the board of trustees meeting Monday when Leath was named as the next president.
“They did a phenomenal job of making the best decision,” McCrary said. “…I think that they made that decision in the best interest of Auburn. They were relied upon and they did a great job particularly in this case.”
James Goldstein, chair of the Auburn University Senate and professor in the English department, said Tuesday he was glad the board selected a president with a strong academic background.
“The senate leadership had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Leath yesterday morning,” Goldstein said. “I believe he has a strong record of supporting shared governance and is always willing to listen to the faculty’s concerns. I hope that the faculty will join me in welcoming him to Auburn University in July and to support his efforts to advance the university in the coming years.”
Leath has drawn controversy at Iowa State during his five years at the university. His questionable use of university airplanes, a land deal criticized as a conflict of interest, and the hiring of well-connected people without searches have made headlines in the Iowa press. One Iowa state senator called it “the old boy network in full swing,” according to the Associated Press.
His strengths appear to have outweighed any negative press he’s drawn.
“Comments made by faculty and student leaders confirmed that Steve was an adherent to shared governance and sought input from the faculty and student leadership while at Iowa State on an ongoing basis,” Funk said. “It is hard to imagine that someone so perfectly met the board’s specifications.”