Penn State Hires Spencer Stuart to Assist in Search for Next President 

Stakeholders from across the university community have helped Spencer Stuart narrow down the characteristics that the search firm will be looking for in Penn State’s new leader. Strategic and entrepreneurial thinking, integrity, and authenticity are some of the key traits that will matter most.

June 16, 2021 – As part of a phased approach, the board of trustees of Pennsylvania State University has gathered an array of critical characteristics that the university community wants in the successor to president Eric J. Barron, who is retiring next year. The school has called in Spencer Stuart to assist in the search for a new leader. An important step of the official search process, led by the board’s presidential recruitment and selection committee, was a listening element, “Next Gen Penn State,” that kicked off in April. As part of the search, the board established a Next Gen Penn State Advisory Group to seek input and guide community involvement in the process over the coming months.

Stakeholders from varying backgrounds and perspectives were charged with actively soliciting input from all areas of our community to help inform the selection of Penn State’s next president, said Matt Schuyler, board of trustees chair. “This is a critical step in the overall presidential search process, and it is an indispensable opportunity for community members to be involved,” he said.

“With the help and contributions of our students, faculty, staff, alumni and others, the input will make the search process stronger,” Mr. Schuyler said.

“Our goal was to secure insights from a broad representation of our community that could help advise us of the needs for a successful leader,” said David Kleppinger, vice chair of the Penn State board of trustees and chair of the Next Gen Penn State Advisory Group. “We are so pleased that we gained responses from a wide array of Penn Staters through this process. The qualitative and quantitative insights and counsel from advisory group members will be an instrumental part of a successful search for Penn State’s 19th president.”

The Next Gen Penn State process garnered these traits for a new school president:

Leadership capabilities:

  • Strategic thinking and entrepreneurial vision
  • Empowering leadership that results in strong teams
  • Collaboration and influencing
  • A sense of accountability and responsibility
  • Values-driven

Personal and professional attributes:

  • Integrity/authenticity
  • Transparent and effective communications
  • Builds trust/confidence
  • Appreciation for shared governance
  • Capacity for decision-making
  • Empathy and humility
  • Inspirational

Career experience:

  • Leadership of a complex enterprise
  • Academic leadership experience and/or deep understanding and appreciation of scholarly and academic values
  • Demonstrated commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Demonstrated stewardship of a breadth of assets and fiscal acumen
  • Complex stakeholder engagement internally and externally
  • Transformational/change leadership
  • Track record and commitment to student success

Next Steps

Trustees Mark H. Dambly and Julie Anna Potts, co-chairs of the presidential search committee, said that the committee, aided by the Spencer Stuart, will now finalize a position profile. Ms. Potts added that advisory group members will continue to be a helpful part of the process.

Related: Ventura Partners Places Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Penn State

“We are thrilled with the insights gleaned from this process,” Ms. Potts said. “Although the official duties of the Next Gen Penn State Advisory Group are complete, we invite their continued participation to review and provide input on the position statement and provide insights for the presidential recruitment and selection committee on the types of questions the committee should focus on through its screening and interview process.”

The position profile will outline the qualifications and attributes for successful candidates prior to the launch of the national search. Later this month, a public-facing webpage on the board of trustees website will launch. It will feature the leadership position profile, contact information to submit candidate nominations, and the anticipated search timeline and process.

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.

The Pennsylvania State University is a public state-related land-grant research university with campuses and facilities throughout Pennsylvania. Founded in 1855 as the Farmers’ High School of Pennsylvania, Penn State became the state’s only land-grant university in 1863. Today, Penn State is a major research university which conducts teaching, research and public service. Its instructional mission includes undergraduate, graduate, professional and continuing education offered through resident instruction and online delivery.

Spencer Stuart’s education practice works with research universities, liberal arts colleges, graduate and professional schools, independent schools, research centers and institutes, and early and secondary education organizations. It has conducted more than 300 senior-level executive and board searches over the past five years. Ninety-six percent of the firm’s executive search placements in academia and research in the past five years are still in their roles today, said Spencer Stuart.

The practice has placed leaders across all functions with a particular focus on presidents, provosts, deans, chief financial officers, chief information officers and vice presidents. Presidential searches conducted by Spencer Stuart include those at Brown, Colgate, Cornell, Northwestern, Wesleyan and Yale universities.

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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