Isaacson, Miller Seeks President for Michigan State University

July 28, 2023 – Boston-based Isaacson, Miller, which serves mission-driven organizations has been enlisted to find the next president for Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing. Leading the assignment are John Isaacson, the search firm’s chair; Joanna Cook, managing associate; and Debbie Scheibler, senior associate.

MSU has seen three presidents depart over the last five years, the most recent being Samuel Stanley Jr. who announced his resignation last October after what was reportedly a “tense relationship with the board of trustees.” In many ways, the university has continued to feel reverberations from the 2016 disclosures surrounding sports doctor Lawrence G. Nassar who for years had molested female gymnasts and other young athletes, and MSU’s past failings in relation to his actions.

Michigan State University’s next president will be charged with executing the university’s 2023 strategic plan, complete with its goals for scholarship, research, and student success, said Isaacson, Miller. He or she will also be expected to work effectively and transparently with board and university leadership, and align the board, the president, the leadership team, and MSU constituencies for maximum impact. In addition, this individual must advance cutting-edge research and increase research expenditures to secure MSU’s scholarly and research position among the great universities of the nation.

Maintaining strong domestic enrollment trends in Michigan, supplemented by increased appeal to national and international students will be a critical part of the new president’s job. Also important will be furthering MSU’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Key Qualities

The new MSU president’s responsibilities will further include continuing the work on OCR/Title IX initiatives and accountability, said Isaacson, Miller, and aligning the entire university with “an excellent process that is widely supported.” “In the last six years, after revelations of an appalling sexual abuse crisis, MSU sought expert advice, designed, and staffed the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance, and built out comprehensive policies and a system for both support and enforcement,” said the search firm. “A new president will inherit a great deal of excellent work, but MSU cannot take success for granted.”

MSU seeks an experienced leader with the intellectual vision, broad worldview, and personal integrity to inspire the university community to new levels of excellence across its locations, colleges, and disciplines, said Isaacson, Miller. Candidates should have a history of organizational leadership, the ability to build and cultivate financial support for the university and its programs, and accomplishment in creating and supporting a climate of community, understanding, engagement, openness, and mutual respect.

Related: Hunt Scanlon Top 50 Non-Profit & Higher Education Search Firms

Prospects should also have successful experience as a strategic leader of a highly complex organization: the skill to respond to a governing board as well as the ability to develop and lead strong management teams, delegate responsibility and authority, and execute large and ambitious plans with an entrepreneurial spirit and fiscal responsibility. A doctorate or terminal degree is required. MSU wants its next president to have a strong respect for and experience with distinguished scholarship, research, and academic excellence as well as “an unwavering moral compass and commitment to doing what is right.”

The High Demand for Higher Education Leaders Continues
With a new school year approaching, a number of top colleges and universities have announced they are seeking new, high profile leaders to take them into new eras of fundraising, digitalization, sports and, in some cases, globalization. Several universities haven’t changed leaders in years or even decades, and their boards of trustees and search committees are finding an entirely new and highly competitive landscape as they set out. It is another reason why they’re calling in executive recruiters to assist.

Founded in 1855, Michigan State University is one of the nation’s largest institutions of higher education, enrolling more than 50,000 students, including about 11,000 graduate and professional school students in 17 degree-granting colleges. MSU has over 1,600 faculty and academic staff in international teaching, research, and outreach with more than 375 international institutional partnership agreements in 85 countries.

Mission-Driven Clients

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, the firm’s chair, founded Isaacson, Miller in 1982. He has led searches in many areas of the firm’s practice. Mr. Isaacson has helped the firm develop its cumulative knowledge of the craft of search and has attended, with increasing interest, to the missionary purposes of institutions, the political and economic disciplines of specialized markets, and the emotional and intellectual learnings that leaders acquire in a committed working life.

Ms. Cook, who is based in Boston, joined Isaacson, Miller in 2016. She has worked on a variety of recruitments for operational and technology leadership at organizations across higher education and healthcare, including Harvard University, Museum of Science Boston, the American Society for Clinical Oncology, Trinity College, and New England Conservatory, among others. She has also recruited STEM leaders across many deanships and chair roles. Notably, Ms. Cook has completed searches for leadership of organizations with complex governance structures and active external stakeholders.

Dr. Scheibler joined Isaacson, Miller in 2022. Previously, she served for 15 years as a senior administrator in higher education, most notably in housing and residence life, student behavioral management, and crisis response. In addition to her diverse housing experiences, Dr. Scheibler brings expertise in curriculum development, professional association leadership, policy creation, Title IX case management, student rights and responsibilities, and high-level crisis management.

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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