Presidential Search Preparation Committee continue search for the university’s next president

By Jessie Kern

DeKALB — With the university presidential search being put on hold during the 2017 fall semester, administrators are taking extra precautions to assure the process is as thorough as possible.

The Presidential Search Preparation Committee is researching different aspects of the presidential search in terms of contract negotiation, defining open search advantages and disadvantages and elements of the job description.

The committee, made up of the board of trustees, faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, has been separated into three ad hoc working groups.

The Presidential Search Preparation Committee has been broken down into three different subcommittees that have a specific area of focus.

The presidential searches subcommittee is checking into other universities’ presidential searches and the different ways it can be approached. The presidential contracts subcommittee is researching contract negotiation and incentive-based contracts, among others. The last subcommittee focuses on the university’s “points of pride,” as well as elements of presidential job descriptions, and is identifying the unique aspects of the university and what sets NIU apart.

Trustee John Butler offered the committee advice since he worked on the past presidential search five years ago. He also provided the committee with different resources to assist them in making comparisons to the previous presidential searches and how universities across the country have approached the process.

“The most significant challenge [of the last presidential search] was the fact that it was closed, and the stakeholders were not engaged until the very end,” Butler said. “And then obviously a very limited number of them were involved, and you just heard who your new president was.”

Butler said the closed search was very challenging to the Board and other campus entities because there was little opportunity to make changes after the group of candidates were recruited. He said he thinks the committee is working toward correcting the closed search challenge he faced in the past.

Butler said he thinks those who apply for this position will expect a degree of openness not incorporated in the previous presidential search.

“My own assessment of the current political culture is that there’s going to be a demand for an understanding of who the candidates are at a much earlier state,” Butler said.

It is important to focus on the language used to attract candidates because it will alter how NIU is defined, like viewing the university as a regional university instead of a doctoral national research institution, Butler said.

“National universities are those that offer a full range of undergraduate majors, plus masters and doctoral programs, and they’re committed to producing research,” Butler said. “And regional universities are those that offer a full range of undergraduate programs, some masters, and there’s a much less emphasis on the research mission, more on the teaching mission.”

Dennis Barsema, Presidential Search Preparation Committee chair, said he would love to see an incentive-based contract because it is important to be able to measure how much an individual will be paid.

“If you do an incentive contract you want it to drive the correct behavior,” Barsema said.

Group progress

Debra Miller, Supportive Professional Staff Council member, who spoke on behalf of the presidential searches groups, said they reviewed 49 institutions and narrowed the group to 30 based on institutions currently engaged in a presidential search or that have completed a search within the last five years.

Miller said the goal is to understand the composition of the search committees and the extent of student and community involvement. Miller also said it is important to discover the advantages and disadvantages of an open versus a closed search by seeing the results of both.

“With universities that recently conducted searches that were closed, there was far more hits of negative news articles with criticisms of the boards,” said Emily Steven, anthropology graduate student.

Kendall Thu, Department of Anthropology chairperson, also working with the presidential searches group, said the composition of search committees was fairly similar between the different institutions.

The presidential contracts subcommittee is led by education assistant professor Katy Jaekel. Jaekel said the focus of what the group hopes to find in other contracts is compensation base pay, fringe benefits, incentivisation and aspects of what termination looks like.

Jaekel said contracts are difficult to find and has been able to only find one presidential contract from Illinois State University. “We are relying heavily on the student newspapers and other newspapers to find a variety of criteria,” Jaekel said.

The final working ad hoc group is looking into the ways different institutions market their university when looking for presidential candidates.

Economic associate professor George Slotsve, speaking on behalf of the points of pride group, said members have been asking for input from various universities.

“We’re trying to find and implement necessary steps to strengthen our recruiting effort so that we can try to continue to track the quality of students both nationally and internationally,” Slotsve said.

The group hopes to be able to promote the NIU brand, represent competitive scholarships and increase the university’s global presence as part of the points of pride, Slotsve said.

“This is my own personal view,” Butler said. “I think the campus gives the Board the president, I think that the work of the committee is vital to limiting the choices and producing for the university a candidate who has been fully vetted.”