Universities Step Up Efforts to Find New Leaders

May 13, 2016 – As another academic year winds down around the country this month, colleges and universities are ramping up efforts to fill their C-suites at a time when the sector’s top leaders move on to new positions or enter retirement. Many schools, in the process, have been turning to executive search firms to assist them.

Kansas State University has retained Academic Search to lead in the search for its next president. Current president Kirk Schulz has stepped to down to accept the president’s position at Washington State University. Gen. Richard B. Myers, a retired U.S. Air Force general and Kansas State University alumnus, is currently serving as the University’s interim president. Senior consultants John Hicks and Dr. Ann Die Hasselmo are leading the assignment.

For over three decades, Academic Search has served as a leader in the design and implementation of search processes for presidents and senior administrators at colleges and universities throughout the country. Mr. Hicks is a veteran university administrator with a long record of guiding searches for public and private institutions nationwide. He has conducted more than 50 searches while at Academic Search, from dean to president.

The Kansas Board of Regents, the body which governs the state’s six public universities, selected Regent Dennis Mullin to serve as chair of the Kansas State University presidential search committee.


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The Board of Regents has appointed 20 individuals to assist and advise the board in the selection of its next president. The search committee includes representation from Kansas State students, faculty, staff, athletics, alumni, and the wider university community. “I am looking forward to working on behalf of the entire Wildcat family to find the next president of this great university,” said Mr. Mullin.

Nine Search Firms Considered

A process is currently underway to author the job profile for the next university president, including the involvement of current campus groups to help articulate the kind of leader the university needs and what background would be ideal, said Breeze Richardson, communications director at the Kansas Board of Regents. “We anticipate this will be approved by the Board of Regents in early June, after which the job will be formally posted.”

Over the next several months, the search committee will work closely with Academic Search to identify and recruit candidates for consideration. In addition to approving the committee’s membership, the board also approved a formal charge which instructs the search committee to identify “three to five candidates who are the most qualified for board selection as the next president of Kansas State University.” The board anticipates a somewhat long search search process to play out through the end of the calendar year.

In selecting an executive search firm, the Board of Regents considered nine search outfits, including Academic Search; AGB Search; EFL Associates; Isaacson, Miller; Parker Executive Search; RPA Inc.; R. William Funk & Associates; Snodgrass Partners; and Witt/Kieffer. Surprisingly, none of the more recognizable Big Five global search firms made the cut.

The Kansas Board of Regents, which is responsible for hiring the state’s public university heads, has used several recruiting firms in recent years to find school leaders, including AGB Search (Emporia State University and Fort Hays State University); R. William Funk & Associates (University of Kansas); and Academic Search (Kansas State University).

Finding Academic Leaders Now Big Business 

To the east, Western Kentucky University just turned to an executive search firm to find its next president. Isaacson, Miller is leading that top assignment. Current president Gary A. Ransdell has announced his intention to retire in 2017. Isaacson, Miller vice presidents Mike Baer and Dan Rodas will be heading the search.

“They’ve done many presidential searches within the last few years,” said Dr. Phillip Bale, the chairman of the WKU presidential search committee. “They’ve done the presidential searches for Vanderbilt, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Illinois, just to name a few.” Isaacson, Miller is not alone. Scores of search firms around the country have set up dedicated practices focused on the academic field (see our roundup below) and business, they report, hasn’t been better in years.

Isaacson, Miller is currently leading president searches for the University of Missouri System, the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, California Institute of the Arts, Fisk University, California State University (Stanislaus), Loyola University Chicago, and EARTH University.

Turning south, Florida Gulf Coast University plans to interview three executive recruiting firms about conducting the search for its next president. Current president Wilson Bradshaw said he is planning to retire next year.

A subcommittee formed to oversee the search process voted to bring Greenwood / Asher and Associates, Parker Executive Search and Witt/Kieffer to FGCU for interviews next week. The subcommittee winnowed down an original list of search firms that included R. William Funk and Myers McRae Executive Search and Consulting. Greenwood / Asher might have an edge in this race to be selected; it placed Mr. Bradshaw to FGCU’s top post in 2007.

‘A Tricky Situation’

While these three university searches seemed to get out of their starting positions rather quickly this spring, others can germinate for uncomfortably longer periods of time.

Ball State University is about to begin its search for a new president after former president Paul W. Ferguson unexpectedly resigned from his position in January, leaving the faculty and students puzzled about why he departed.

But chairman Rick Hall said that while the board is still looking into forming a search committee, and plans to hire a professional search firm to assist it, he could not put a timeline on the effort.

“It’s a tricky situation,” said Jay Berger, partner of executive search firm Morris & Berger. He said the university needs to get its search process underway, and timely information about what happened back in January should be released. Candidates might be fearful to consider the opportunity otherwise, he said.

Here is a roundup of recent recruiting activity in the education and academic sector, taken from the Hunt Scanlon Media newswire archives:

Contributed by Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media

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