Isaacson, Miller Assists University of Maryland and Xavier University to Find New Leaders

The Boston-based recruiter places a familiar face around campus at Maryland, and launches a nationwide hunt for a new leader at Xavier after its president of two decades says he plans to step down. Let’s take a break from the coronavirus news and go inside these two important searches.

March 25, 2020 – Isaacson, Miller recently assisted in the placement of Darryll J. Pines as the 34th president of the University of Maryland. Meanwhile the search firm was also called in by Xavier University to find its next president. John Muckle, Gale Merseth and Vijay Saraswat led the search for Maryland while Jackie Mildner, Leslie McCarthy, and Jenna Sattar Kwiatek are spearheading the assignment for Xavier.

Dr. Pines is dean of the University of Maryland’s school of engineering and a professor of aerospace engineering. He started at the university in 1995 as an assistant professor and later served as chair of the department of aerospace engineering, before assuming the role of dean in 2009.


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“It’s fitting — and gratifying — that the University of Maryland will be led by a member of its own family, by someone who knows so well its people and programs, its considerable strengths and enormous potential,” said chancellor Jay Perm. “Dr. Pines’ leadership of the (engineering) school has been shaped by important priorities: improving teaching in fundamental undergraduate courses, thereby boosting student retention; achieving success in national and international student competitions; emphasizing sustainability engineering and service learning; promoting STEM education among high school students; and amplifying the impact of the school’s expansive research programs.”

The University of Maryland is the state’s flagship and a preeminent public research institution. A global leader in research and innovation, the school enrolls more than 41,000 students, employs more than 14,000 faculty and staff, and offers 286 academic programs.

Search Just Underway

Michael J. Graham, the 34th president of Xavier University since 2001, has announced his retirement after 20 years leading Cincinnati’s nearly 200-year-old Jesuit university through the first two decades of the 21st century. “I will step down in 2021 because it is in the best interest of Xavier University for me to do so,” said Mr. Graham. “And, because the university has never been stronger than it is now, it has therefore never been better prepared to attract a visionary and capable leader.”

A search team has been formed to begin the process of selecting the school’s next president. “While the time ahead will certainly be used to say thank you to Mr. Graham, it is time to seek our next university leader,” said Barbara Howard, leader of the search committee, former board chair, and current trustee. “To be sure, we will hire a president who will carry on our Jesuit mission.”

In April, Xavier University, in conjunction with national executive search firm Isaacson, Miller, is planning to conduct listening sessions (individual and group) with constituents across the Xavier campus. An online survey for all campus constituents will also be available. The feedback and survey will be synthesized into a position profile to be reviewed by the search committee and ultimately approved by the board of trustees. The profile will be the basis for conducting a national search and will be distributed widely.

The search committee will meet to review the candidates, narrow the field and conduct preliminary candidate interviews. Finalists will be identified and vetted in time to have a new president in place by July 1, 2021.

Related: Academic Sector Pumping Big Fees Into Search Firms

Xavier is a Jesuit university in Cincinnati and Norwood, OH. It is the sixth-oldest Catholic and fourth-oldest Jesuit university in the U.S. Xavier has an undergraduate enrollment of 4,485 students and graduate enrollment of 2,165. It is primarily an undergraduate, liberal arts institution.

Veteran Recruiters

A nationally recognized search firm focused on recruiting transformational leaders for mission-driven organizations, Isaacson, Miller has conducted thousands of placements over more than three decades. More than half of the firm’s work has been in academia, involving university presidents, college chancellors and deans. The firm has filled top leadership posts at Wellesley College, Washington State University, Miami University, Howard University, Bowdoin College, Dartmouth, NYU, Virginia State University and the University of North Carolina, among others. Mr. Isaacson founded Isaacson, Miller in 1982.


Navigating the Insular World of Academic Recruiting
Passionate about higher education, recruiters for the academic sector face a range of challenges than those in other areas are unlikely to see, says Shawn M. Hartman, of Washington, D.C.-based Academic Search. Widespread input from across an institution’s community, lengthier searches and state sunshine laws are just some of the issues that executive recruiters working for institutions of higher learning must deftly navigate.


Mr. Merseth leads higher education searches with a particular emphasis on university presidencies and deanships of business and other professional schools that have a strong applied and career-oriented focus. He has placed more than 35 business school deans for public and private universities as well as CEOs for several non-profits. Since joining Isaacson, Miller in 2004, he has become a partner to his clients, as demonstrated by his repeat work with clients such as the University of Maryland. He spent 13 years as a faculty member and administrator at Harvard Business School and four years as founding dean of the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University.

Related: Recruitment for Higher Education Leaders Heats Up and Shifts

Mr. Muckle heads the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) practice area for the firm, building scientific capacity at many leading academic institutions. He also has engaged in a number of the firm’s most recent university president and provost searches. In addition, Mr. Muckle is a leader in the firm’s healthcare practice, where he oversees the recruitments of deans, department chairs, division chiefs, and biomedical center and institute directors. He has assisted clients such as Duke University, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, the University of Iowa and the University of Pennsylvania, among other leading academic healthcare organizations to attract talent at all levels.

Mr. Saraswat has built expertise across a wide range of higher education searches since joining Isaacson, Miller in 2012. He has also played a key role in the firm’s STEM practice, solving complex leadership placements such as the founding director of the Institute for Quantitative Health Sciences and Engineering at Michigan State University and the chair of the computer science department at the University of Chicago. Other searches include center directors, chairs, deans of sciences and engineering, vice presidents for research, and campus and system presidents.

Consultants Leading the Xavier Search

Ms. Mildner joined Isaacson, Miller as partner in 2005, continuing her career in executive development for associations and higher education institutions. She has recruited leaders for non-profit and international organizations, including the Missouri Botanical Garden, Heifer International, Soroptimist International of the Americas, the Global Women’s Institute at George Washington University, Schwarzman Scholars, as well as for a range of higher education institutions, including Bowdoin College, Duke University, Smith College, Columbia University, Hobart and William Smith colleges, Lawrence University, University of Rhode Island and Bloomfield College.

Ms. McCarthy joined Isaacson, Miller in 2007 and has been in her current role as an associate since 2012. Her practice focuses on academic leadership positions with an emphasis on Catholic higher education institutions. She also has experience recruiting leaders for non-profit and advocacy organizations.

Ms. Sattar Kwiatek joined Isaacson, Miller as an associate in 2019. Prior to joining the firm, she worked eight years in the Office of Residential Life at Boston College.

Related: Why Universities Have Stepped Up Efforts to Involve Search Firms

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor  – Hunt Scanlon Media

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