A summary of the open faculty discussion on the search for the next Rutgers president is given below.  If you would like to add your comments to the discussion, please go to the Faculty Council Discussion Board on the WebCT server.

Instructions: go to the WebCT home page, log on, using your rci or eden username and password, then click on Add Course and then on New Brunswick Faculty Council and follow the instructions to self-register.
 


Summary of the Open Faculty Discussion on the Presidential Search
March 29, 2002

The open discussion took place during the regularly scheduled March meeting of the New Brunswick Faculty Council and was conducted under the rules for “committee-of-the-whole” discussions.  All New Brunswick Faculty and academic deans were invited to attend and offered the privilege of the floor.  Approximately 55 faculty members attended, despite the fact that it was held on Good Friday and the second day of Passover, due to unfortunate scheduling constraints.

    New Brunswick Faculty Council Chair Martha Cotter began the discussion by summarizing the responses to the survey on presidential attributes that was sent to all NBFC members to use in polling their constituents.  Prof. Cotter noted that despite the relatively small number of responses received and the fact that most respondents rated all of the listed attributes as being of major or paramount importance, the average numerical ratings clearly fell into three categories:

Attributes rated of paramount importance (average ratings very near 4.0): demonstrated commitment to excellence; commitment to research and scholarly activity; commitment to undergraduate and graduate education

Attributes rated of nearly paramount importance (average ratings between 3.5 and 3.75): demonstrated leadership and administrative ability; commitment to shared governance; ability to relate well to faculty, students and alumni; ability to work well with the state government

Attributes rated of major but not paramount importance (average ratings around 3.0): demonstrated fund-raising ability; commitment to outreach and service; high-level academic administrative experience

    The discussion was divided into three parts: (1) a discussion of the desired personal attributes and leadership style of the next president, (2) a discussion of the desired experience and background of the next president and (3) a discussion of possible ways to help insure that the search yields the sort of president we want. The views expressed in each of these three categories by those present at the meeting are summarized below.

I.  Personal Attributes and Leadership Style

In this part of the discussion, speakers were asked to address the question of which one or two personal attributes they would weigh most heavily in ranking presidential candidates.

    The attribute cited most often as being at the top of the list was a commitment to shared governance, openness, and accountability.  From both the speakers comments and the audience response, it was clear that there was broad consensus among those present that in order to be effective, the next president needs to have an open administrative style and to support shared governance, in which faculty members have timely and meaningful input into decisions having a direct impact on classroom education.  One speaker stated that he viewed the erosion of faculty governance as the major problem over the past 12 years and that if he were on the search committee, he would ask candidates hard questions about their views on faculty governance and on the kind of administrative structure they would implement in terms of division of labor and criteria for selecting vice-presidents and deans.  The same speaker further suggested that we stop selecting presidents on the basis of personality and start selecting them of the basis of proposed programs, strategies and overall understanding of how universities should work.  Another speaker noted that were he on the search committee, he would use as a litmus test a candidate’s response to the suggestion that he or she submit to an evaluation of his or her performance by the university community after some period of time.  Still another speaker stated that he wanted a president who was committed to faculty governance and who would select people for his or her administration who would be permitted and encouraged to express views in opposition to those of the president and who would be committed to team work in the truest sense of the word.  Finally, a speaker suggested that the next president must have a commitment to faculty governance if Rutgers is to reach its full potential as an outstanding public university.  She argued that Rutgers is a very large and complex institution and that the president cannot succeed in lifting it to the next level of excellence without making use of the expertise and wisdom of the faculty, through shared governance.

    Another attribute which several speakers rated as being of uppermost importance is demonstrated commitment to excellence in all aspects of the university’s mission of research, teaching, and service.  One speaker expressed this by saying that the next president should have a “fire in his or her belly” for making Rutgers one of the top several public universities in the nation and added that a candidate’s commitment to excellence should be judged by his or her actions and accomplishments in previous positions.  Another speaker stated that he wanted a president whose dedication to excellence was demonstrated by a strong record of achievement, not promises.  Still another speaker emphasized that the commitment must be to building a great public university which would serve the needs of students from all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups in this highly diverse state.  On the other hand, another speaker agreed with the overarching importance of a commitment to excellence but expressed his belief that the various aspects of excellence as a scholar, teacher, administrator, and colleague should not be separated into a checklist of items which could be used to disqualify strong candidates.

    A number of other speakers proposed other attributes as being of most importance in judging presidential candidates.  One speaker argued that he considered the ability to work well with the state government and to advocate effectively for Rutgers with the state to be of primary importance and added that he had reached this conclusion from years of working on issues where broad consensus was achieved among faculty, students, and the administration on what should be done, only to have the proposals hit a stone wall in Trenton.  Another speaker added that it is likewise very important that the next president have the respect of, and ability to work with, the presidents of other public colleges and universities in New Jersey and that he or she take on the major leadership role within the state higher education community.

    Another speaker proposed that the most important characteristic the next president needs to have is moral character and vision.  He argued that the next president needs to address the issues of isolation of different communities within the university community and of the isolation and alienation of faculty and that he or she must have the moral character to “lead us where we need to go.”  Another speaker stated that a real commitment to equity and diversity, as demonstrated by actions rather than words, is the most important quality he would look for in the next president.

    Finally, several faculty members who could not be present at the open discussion communicated their opinions on the most important presidential attributes to the Council in writing.  Most of their suggestions were the same as those made at the open discussion; however, several other qualities were proposed as being of paramount importance.  One faculty member suggested that the most important thing is that the next president be able to command the respect of faculty, students, alumni, and state leaders. Another faculty member argued that it is of great importance that the next president be able to relate well to faculty and students, that he or she should be highly visible on campus, approachable, and like and be very comfortable with both faculty and students. Finally, a group of faculty and administrators argued that the next president must have a strong commitment to increasing the diversity of the Rutgers faculty and senior administrators, so that they more closely mirror the racial and ethnic profile of New Jersey.
 

II.  Background and Experience

There was no consensus on the question of willingness to consider someone from outside academia. One speaker suggested that given current realities in New Jersey and the importance of state support to Rutgers, a recognized and respected political figure in the state might be a good choice for president.  He argued that the higher education structure in the state is about to change and that a president who really knows the ropes in Trenton would help insure that the new structure serves the interests of Rutgers. On the other hand, several speakers expressed strong opposition to going outside academia and argued that the next president should come from academia and have a good understanding of how a large public research university works. One speaker specifically opposed considering anyone from the corporate world. Another speaker argued that while we may prefer an academic, all things being equal, we should not rule out any class of candidates a priori lest we eliminate someone who might make an excellent president.

    There was also no clear consensus concerning the level of importance of having academic administrative experience.  Most faculty present seemed to believe that academic administrative experience at at least the decanal level is of major importance. One speaker went farther and argued that we should try, at all costs, to hire the president of another major research university.  As he expressed it, we should not have to provide extensive on-the-job training for the next president.  Other speakers cautioned, however, that if the bar is set too high with regard to administrative experience (or other qualifications), we risk eliminating from consideration applicants with great potential.  Another speaker suggested that the ideal candidate would be a “Mason Gross type person”, by which he meant a present or former Rutgers person who had come up through the ranks of the faculty and was respected by all.

    Another issue discussed is whether or not the next Rutgers president needs to be a noted scholar.  One speaker answered this question in the negative, arguing that star researchers are sometimes self-absorbed and disinterested in the university beyond their own immediate colleagues.  However, all others who addressed this issue expressed the opinion that if the next president is an academic, he or she needs to be, or at least to have been, a respected scholar in order to have the respect and confidence of the faculty. One speaker went further, expressing his belief that the next president should have national or even international standing in his or her research area.

    The final aspect of background and experience discussed was the question of the importance of a proven track record in fundraising.  The faculty members present at the discussion clearly do not feel that this is a credential of major importance.  While everyone understands that fundraising is crucially important, most faculty do not believe that extensive prior fundraising experience is necessary.  As one faculty member who could not be present wrote:  “A president with the requisite stature, vision, leadership skills and commitment to excellence will be successful as a fundraiser even if he or she has never tried to raise money before.”
 

III.  Advice to the Search Committee/BOG with Respect to the Search Process

The discussion then turned to advice the participants wished to give to the search committee and to the Board of Governors regarding ways to help insure the success of the search.  The first two pieces of advice to the search committee below and the advice to the Board of Governors were endorsed by the Faculty Council Executive Cabinet; the remaining items were suggested by various speakers.  In the end, there was clearly broad consensus with respect to each of points listed below.

Advice to the Search Committee
 
1. Do not send forward the name of anyone you are not enthusiastic about, even if this means recommending fewer names than requested.
2. Make sure that all members of the search committee are given the opportunity to interact with all of the candidates interviewed.

Rationale: this was not done in the last presidential search, in which the search committee broke up into subgroups, each of which interviewed a different subset of candidates.
 

3. Be appropriately wary of the advice of the professional search firm retained to assist in the search.

Rationale: professional search firms are very useful for identifying candidates who might otherwise never come to Rutgers' attention.  However, once the search firm has identified a candidate, the candidate becomes in a sense the firm’s client and the firm has a vested interest in having the candidate get the job.
 

4. Empower yourselves and take charge of the search.  In particular, make sure that you, and not the professional search firm assisting in the search, determine how the interviews and evaluation of candidates is done.
5. Carry out the search in as open and transparent a manner as possible, within the constraints imposed by a reasonable level of confidentiality.

Rationale:  this will not only improve the chances for success in the search, but will also put the candidates on notice that we wish things to be done openly and transparently at Rutgers.
 

6. Try to stay in contact with the Board of Governors after you have submitted the list of finalists to the Board; offer to answer questions and provide any advice the Board would find helpful.  Do not leave the end-stage advising to the professional search firm.

 

Advice to the Board of Governors

Provide opportunity for members of the Rutgers community to interact with the finalists and to provide feedback to you on their relative strengths and weaknesses.