Michigan State University Close to Picking Search Firm for Top Role

An organization undergoing scandal seeks new leadership. Sadly, not exactly a new mandate for executive recruiters – but when these high profile assignments surface the pressure is on to identify someone quietly, and quickly.
Michigan State University Close to Picking Search Firm for Top Role

March 5, 2018 – In the wake of the sex abuse scandal involving sports doctor Larry Nassar, which forced the president of Michigan State University (MSU) to step aside, the school now faces the challenge of finding a new leader. President Lou Anna Simon resigned in January over the school’s handling of accusations against the former U.S. gymnastics and MSU physician.

This is the first time in 25 years that MSU has conducted a nationwide search for a new leader. Ms. Simon, who became president in 2005, had a long history with the university and was selected without a national search.

“The search for the president is going to be a very significant search, it will set the tone and the tenor of this university for the future,” said Deborah Moriarty, a professor in the College of Music, during a recent faculty senate meeting, according to MLive Media Group. “We need to have inclusion of the faculty and the students, and we need to have implementation of what the faculty and the students feel is important.”

Michigan State faces the challenge of attracting a candidate to an institution that has been shaken by Dr. Nassar, who sexually abused more than 250 women and girls under the guise of medical treatment.


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The university has issued no timetable on the search. Pennsylvania State University’s search for a new president, following the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal, lasted nearly two years. But as every recruiter knows, the challenge is to fill these open roles as discreetly and quickly as possible.

Related: Academic Sector Pumping Big Fees Into Search Firms

Rebuilding Mode

The MSU board of trustees unanimously voted at a recent meeting to appoint former Michigan Gov. John Engler as interim president. The school said he is not a candidate for the role on a permanent basis.


Heidrick & Struggles Places First Female President at Baylor in Wake of Sexual Abuse Scandal
Heidrick & Struggles placed Linda Livingstone as the first female president of Baylor University. Since 2011, 17 female Baylor students reported sexual or domestic assault charges against 19 football players at the university. Mr. Starr and celebrated football coach Art Briles lost their jobs in wake of the scandal.


“As the father of three daughters who just completed their undergraduate degrees, I put myself in the place of every parent who has sent their loved one to this great institution,” said Mr. Engler. “I understand the concern and uncertainty as well as the frustration and anger. To those parents, be assured that I will move forward as if my own daughters were on this campus and will treat every student as I would my own daughters.”

Related: Myers McRae Recruits President for University of Charleston

Casting Call

A number of search firms have been called in to bid on the assignment including Russell Reynolds Associates, one of the top five recruiters in the U.S. The firm provides executive search and leadership solutions services across a wide expanse of specialty subsector verticals, including global media, entertainment, technology and the athletics markets. The firm’s consultants from these practice groups are expected to lend their expertise in assessment, succession planning and culture fit to the assignment.

Related: Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates Seeks President for University of Oklahoma

The firm is well acquainted with the Nassar scandal, having recently placed Kerry J. Perry as the new CEO of USA Gymnastics. The organization had been without a CEO since Steve Penny resigned last March because of allegations that he and USA Gymnastics failed to properly address claims of sexual abuse against member coaches and Dr. Nassar. Managing director Nada Usina led that search with consultant Libby Naumes.


USA Gymnastics Taps Russell Reynolds Associates for CEO Search
After putting out an open casting call for executive search firms to assist USA Gymnastics in its hunt for a new CEO, Russell Reynolds Associates has taken the rings of this highly coveted sports assignment and commenced a global talent search. 


Recruiters not involved in the search are in agreement that the incoming CEO will have a big job in restoring the image of Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics, which is charged with setting the standard for the sport at all levels and selecting the U.S. Olympic team.

Related: Russell Reynolds Associates Places First Non-Jesuit President at Fairfield University

Turning to Search Firms

In recent months, a number of top schools have announced that they are looking for new, high-profile leaders to take them into new eras of fundraising, digitalization, sports and, in some cases, globalization. Several universities have gone for years or even decades without changing leaders, and their boards of trustees and search committees are finding an entirely new and highly competitive landscape as they set out. That’s another reason why they’re summoning recruiters to help.

It is no wonder that universities and institutions of higher learning are turning to executive search firms in droves to fill their top roles,” said Diversified Search CEO Dale Jones. “Recruiters have the requisite skills to manage a process that at times can be unwieldy, but more importantly they can help to expand a university’s reach and use their well-honed assessment skills to find the very best leaders in and out of higher education.”

Related: R. William Funk Lands New Leader for University of Arizona

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

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