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Range of qualities sought in next Penn State president

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By Centre Daily Times (State College)
Saturday, May 11, 2013, 6:36 p.m.
 

UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State's professors want the next university president to be confident and a hit with students. In addition, he or she has to be a force in Harrisburg for more state dollars and raise money from alumni.

“But if they are not intellectually engaged, they are not dedicated to the academic mission of the university, ... we are going to have some version of an empty suit,” English professor Michael Berube told the university's Faculty Senate last month.

The wish list of qualities collected from the university community at large has been narrowed and meshed in a 23-page position profile document that is being used to outline the qualifications and experiences of whoever is the successor to Rodney Erickson, the former university No. 2 who took over the reins as the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal erupted.

Erickson, who lives on a farm in Ferguson Township with his wife, Shari, has said he will retire by June 30, 2014.

Bottom line: The new president must be committed to academic excellence, be a cheerleader and ambassador in front of alumni and policymakers, and have a grasp on the complexities and nuances of a sprawling university.

“It is not enough to excel,” the position profile reads.

“The president must deliver the message that the university provides and supports a high-quality education, that it promotes superior basic and applied research in an efficient and effective manner, and that it works with the governmental, corporate and educational sectors through the state, and the nation, to share its knowledge and expertise.”

The search process has yielded a pool of more than 300 candidates, university trustee Karen Peetz said at last week's board meeting on campus, and recruiters from the firm Isaacson, Miller published the position profile last week after collecting input from various forums and submitted comments.

A special committee assembled to pick the new president has its sights set on making that decision in November, said Peetz, who is leading the panel called the Trustee Presidential Selection Council.

The candidate pool will be screened and narrowed by a separate group composed of faculty members, administrators, staff and students, and refer those who made the cut to Peetz's trustee council.

Whoever is picked has to be passionate about Penn State, have prior senior leadership experience at a major university, business or governmental organization, and be able to make tough, even unpopular decisions, according to the profile, which was posted online last week. A sense of humor would be helpful, too.

The position profile spells out numerous challenges the next president will face.

One is the future role of Penn State's branch campuses, which are located throughout the state and have student populations that range from 4,000 at the Erie campus to less than 600 at the one in Shenango, Lawrence County, in the western part of the state.

The declining population in Western Pennsylvania is of particular concern, as it could affect the enrollment in the branch campuses in those communities. The president has to understand the contributions these campuses make to the university and the state, the document reads.

“There are important decisions to be addressed about the organizational structure and financial capabilities of all campuses,” the profile reads. “In considering these, the president must be president of the whole university and make decisions that will continue to strengthen the entire institution.”

Another challenge for the next president will be building consensus at the university after the Sandusky scandal. The document says the university continues to work on governance and compliance in light of the “great progress” that officials already have made.

“It will be important for the president to foster an atmosphere of openness and transparency, and to manage carefully any residual conflict,” the profile reads. “A new president should enhance the continuing focus of the university on its academic mission and restore trust and pride.”

Transparency will be important, too, the document states, as the president will have access to a swath of different constituency groups important to the state through the board of trustees - such as its agricultural industry, businesses, the governor and members of his Cabinet.

The president should not hide anything important the board needs to know, the document says.

“It is incumbent on the president to keep the board fully informed about the key actions, interactions and significant issues related to the (u)niversity,” the document says.

Former President Graham Spanier has been blamed for not alerting trustees of the grand jury investigation into Sandusky and that three of his senior administrators — Athletic Director Tim Curley, Vice president Gary Schultz and head football coach Joe Paterno — testified to the grand jury.

In addition, the next president is expected to work hand in hand with lawmakers and the governor and ensure that the cost of a Penn State education is affordable to Pennsylvanians. University officials want the president to stand out to the policymakers and have him or her cultivate relationships with leaders of other colleges and universities in the state.

Additional qualities and experiences desired include the following, according to the profile:

• Appreciation for scholarly work, a thorough understanding of university finances and a commitment to diversity to improve the university and society.

• A “transparent leadership style and unquestionable integrity.”

• A balanced view of college athletics that focuses on academic success, sportsmanship and on-the-field success.

• The continuation of the Hershey Medical Center as an important part of the university's academic mission.

In March, about 20 people showed up to give feedback at the last of three forums, and the only one in which the media was invited to attend.

Professor Gordon De Jong said the next president must have experiences that meet the three-pronged university mission of teaching, research and service.

“Otherwise, he or she has no credibility with the faculty,” the professor said.

Student leaders want the next president to make time for them and seek their advice, said Damon Sims, vice president for student affairs. The students, he said, are “increasingly insistent” that Penn State cut costs and that leaders focus attention on issues such as the cost of a college degree.

“They have very little, if any, interest in the machinations of the board of trustees or anything that focuses on our past, rather than our future,” Sims said. “Both our students and their parents have made that fact plain.

“They want the next president to do all she or he can to turn the university community's attention to important issues related to access, cost, quality, transparency, and other challenges and opportunities we face.”

 

 
 


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