Presidential search forums collect ideas from faculty, staff and students

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s next president may face a number of challenges, but many in the University community see it as a chance for the successful candidate to promote and advance the academic reputation of the institution and take on the critical role of shaping Penn State’s future.

Attendees at the first of three scheduled University forums, intended to gather community input on the search process, provided food for thought Thursday (March 21) for consultants and search committee members named to help find Penn State’s 18th president.

A third forum is scheduled for 2:15-3:15 p.m. today (March 22) in Room 102 (the Foster Auditorium), Paterno Library; it also will be streamed online to Commonwealth Campuses. Additional forums for Commonwealth Campuses are expected to be planned.

Nan Crouter, dean of the College of Health and Human Development and committee chairwoman of the University Presidential Search and Screen Committee, welcomed faculty, staff and students to the inaugural University community forum hosted on the University Park campus.

John Isaacson, Michael Baer and Jackie Mildner from the executive search firm Isaacson, Miller were on hand to ask questions and listen to thoughts and suggestions shared by audience members. 

Isaacson asked faculty and staff attendees to consider the question, “How pleased am I with my professional home? What are you proud of that you’d hate to lose, what would you add that would make you far more proud?”

Faculty and students alike said they appreciated the “family” feel of the University, particularly its sense of pride of place and of achievement without the tone of arrogance, which some noted is unusual in higher education.

The presidential search website, http://presidentialsearch.psu.edu, includes an online comment form for anyone to send thoughts and suggestions for candidate nominations, as well as thoughts on desirable individual qualities for candidates.

One person noted Penn State’s global impact, through its World Campus as well as its research excellence. Another pointed out Penn State’s “pockets of unbelievable excellence,” saying that the unique combinations of high academic and research achievement is something that “you’re not going to duplicate anywhere in the world.” The next president can create opportunities and venues for those areas of excellence that can only multiply the effectiveness of those areas.

Another added that he was surprised at how, having come from outside the region, Penn State was previously known to him as a sports school, but he has been amazed at how incredibly strong and well-rounded it is, top-notch by any national measure. He added that the Schreyer Honors College has contributed a lot to that excellence, and he sensed that this message is not being conveyed as strongly as it could be, and hoped that candidates would appreciate these qualities.

Forum participants hoped that candidates would be identified who have the confidence to face the transitions the University is undergoing, with additional senior-level searches being undertaken right before the president’s position is filled. One person noted that the static level of state appropriations is an ongoing challenge for a multi-campus operation, particularly since the University was founded on the premise as a land-grant institution and in partnership with the state. 

Another attendee said he hoped the right candidates would have a pragmatic streak as well as the availability to listen to and engage with constituencies across the University, with the ability to gain consensus. He hopes for a candidate that would have an established record of achieving progress through change, and not one who “railroads through” his or her own plans. Other participants noted that the right candidate would be a “brilliant, charismatic” person who understands academia but who has decisiveness, good management skills and the ability to set the tone of accountability at the highest level and also hold others accountable.

Students in attendance also shared their thoughts, noting qualities of the University that attracted them to campus. While one said she was part of a Penn State family and had been on campus and to games before, once she enrolled she saw evidence of the qualities that are marketed to prospective students, particularly its high-quality academics and extracurricular opportunities. Another student noted that the sense of family was evident during an on-campus tour, which was very important to her. Yet another student hoped that the next leader would keep the focus on the education services provided, noting that he has heard others refer to higher education as “a business.”

Isaacson, Baer and Mildner asked about the University’s online education programs, wondering if they have had any impact on faculty, staff and students. Several students said they find online classes helpful, both blended classes and those wholly online.

Crouter reminded attendees that the presidential search website, http://presidentialsearch.psu.edu, includes an online comment form for anyone to send thoughts and suggestions for candidate nominations, as well as thoughts on desirable individual qualities for candidates. Online submissions will be sent directly to the search firm, without filtering from anyone at the University.

A third forum is scheduled for 2:15-3:15 p.m. today (March 22) in Room 102 (the Foster Auditorium), Paterno Library; it also will be streamed online to Commonwealth Campuses. (Information and details for participation in the live web stream have been sent directly to the campuses.) Additional forums for Commonwealth Campuses are expected to be planned.

Current President Rodney Erickson has announced that he will retire no later than June 30, 2014.

Updates on the search for Penn State's next president will be posted at http://presidentialsearch.psu.edu, where the public can offer input, learn about those tasked with finding the University’s next leader and view the history of the Penn State presidency.

Faculty, staff, students and alumni also are encouraged to share their insight and make confidential nominations by emailing PSUnominations@imsearch.com. Other comments on the process can be emailed to PSUcomments@imsearch.com. Links to both of these addresses can be found on the new site.

Additional news about the presidential search process is available at http://news.psu.edu/tag/presidential-search.

Last Updated October 13, 2013