The University of South Alabama’s Presidential Search Committee reconvened Nov. 21 for the first time since the Board of Trustees rejected two of its three final candidates for the position, which was vacated earlier this year by the resignation of Gordon Moulton. A third candidate withdrew his nomination in the eleventh hour of the search process.
The committee’s discussion, after shedding some light on the board’s decision to terminate the first search, quickly moved on to how to evaluate its next round of candidates. Without discussing the character of any one of the three previous finalists, Board Chairman Dr. Steven Furr told the committee the broader university community did not seem to unite behind any single candidate.
“There was no consensus from the all various groups,” Furr said of the students, faculty, alumni and others involved in the evaluation process.
Meanwhile, Committee Chairman Kenneth Simon, who is also a trustee, encouraged the group to move forward and focus less on the process of finding another pool of candidates and more on the final result.
“It’s fair to say the process was executed about as well as we could have done, but we also have a concession on the board the process should continue,” he said. “We did a pretty good job last time but can do better going forward. If I had it do all over again, I’d suggest we spend more time expressing the qualities we’re looking for and define with more specificity as to finding someone who could lead us to the next level.”
Simon introduced several of the university’s vice presidents, who suggested focusing on the candidates’ financial and leadership experience as well as their recognition of USA’s institutional goals and mission.
Vice President of Academic Affairs David Johnson told the committee to review the university’s strategic plan and identify areas where it succeeded and those where it failed. Future presidential candidates should be evaluated on their ability to recommend solutions in those areas. But primarily, they need to demonstrate financial savvy, he said.
“The financial environment for education and health care is extremely different than it was five years ago and it will be different five years from now,” he said. “State funding has dropped from $140 million to $100 million per year. That will grow gradually but we’ll have to have other resource strategies.”
Johnson suggested strong candidates may offer recommendations similar to those of Moulton, which include implementing an enrollment growth strategy, improving retention and graduation rates, ensuring graduate success and improving compensation for employees. Johnson also suggested the candidates need to be prepared for the role from day one.
“If a person doesn’t have experience with a large amount of employees reporting to them I would be concerned with that,” he said “There’s a greater the chance they will be overwhelmed.”
Dr. Joe Busta, vice president for development and alumni affairs and member of the search committee, encouraged members to focus on the end product.
“We did our pool six months ago, which is a long time ago with other searches going on nationwide,” he said. “So it’ll be a different pool. When you have a process as open as this one you have to be aware that it doesn’t become a popularity contest rather than a substantive one. That could easily dominate the conversation.”
Vice President for Health Sciences Ron Franks told the committee a candidate with a strong grasp of the health care system was less important than one with an accomplished leadership record.
“Take another look at what a president does,” he said. “The CV is about 25 percent of the information we need to evaluate. Tell us about the programs you’ve developed or the challenges you’ve faced and how you overcame? For me, what you’re really looking for is if they been tested and how they came through that.”
Franks was also critical of the committee’s contracted search firm, suggesting it only sought “generic answers” in compiling a pool of candidates for consideration.
Simon said according to the rules of the committee, it has six months to complete the process of another search and is expected to recommend another group of finalists to the Board sometime early next year. The committee will meet again Friday, Dec. 6.