University of Washington regents gave the first look at what qualities are most important to them and what kind of search they’d like to conduct.
The governing board that will hire the University of Washington’s next president is weighing the pros and cons of an open search, which would allow the public to vet the finalists for the job of leading the state’s flagship university.
They want to choose somebody who will take risks, hire smart people, manage change, serve as president for many years — and also have a self-effacing personality.
And while they’re planning to scour the nation for top candidates, some members of the Board of Regents say they would prefer an internal candidate — a known quantity who would be less likely to present surprises.
The regents laid out all those desires during an all-day retreat Thursday at an upscale Sea-Tac hotel, giving the first look at what qualities are most important to them and what kind of search they’d like to conduct.
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Picking the next president is “the most important thing we ever do as regents,” said Bill Ayer, chairman of the 10-member board.
Former UW President Michael Young abruptly left the UW in February, taking a job as president of Texas A&M University after serving here for less than four years. Interim President Ana Mari Cauce, the former provost, is regarded by some insiders as a strong contender for the permanent job.
On Thursday, the regents announced they have picked former UW Bothell chancellor Kenyon Chan to lead the search. Chan is a veteran of the process — he led the search to pick Mark Pagano as the chancellor of UW Tacoma, who replaced Debra Friedman, who died about a year ago.
Chan said there are two types of searches, and both yield different types of candidates. A closed search — such as the one that resulted in Young’s hiring and most other UW presidents in recent memory — is conducted entirely in secret, and the board’s choice is not revealed until the end. The advantage of a closed process, he said, is that men and women now serving as presidents at other schools are more willing to apply because there is little chance anyone will learn they are looking for another job.
With a closed search, it’s difficult to assess the candidates’ qualities because everything is done in secret. It’s impossible, for example, for the regents to tour the candidates’ campuses and ask for references from a broad range of people.
Three years ago, a number of faculty members were critical of the board for conducting the closed search that led to Young’s presidency.
In an open search, much of the work is also done in secret, but the top three to five candidates are announced near the end, and the public has a chance to meet the candidates and give the regents their views. Since sitting presidents hardly ever agree to be part of an open search, candidates usually come from the ranks of seconds-in-command — the provosts and vice-presidents of universities, as well as retiring military commanders and CEOs, Chan said.
Regents did not settle on either process Thursday, saying they wanted input from the UW community. They expect the search to last through the end of the year.
As they weighed the pros and cons, it was clear the regents were bringing their own hiring experiences into the process. Nearly all are business executives.
“Hiring external candidates is risky business,” said Ayer, who is former chairman and chief executive officer of Alaska Airlines.
“This question about access to information to candidates is not trivial at all,” he said.
Regent Joanne Harrell, a Microsoft executive, agreed.
“I don’t want any surprises,” she said. “The more public we can be, the more we minimize that risk.”
Jeremy Jaech, the CEO of SNUPI Technologies, said an open process was more likely to yield a candidate who’s a change agent — something all the regents seem to want. And regent Rogelio Riojas, president and CEO of Sea Mar Community Health Services, said he was “not keen on stealing somebody else’s president,” and preferred an open process.
Harrell, Jaech and Riojas, along with regent Kristi Blake, will be the regents’ representatives on the search committee, which usually also includes a number of faculty members, and business and community leaders.
Blake indicated that she’d like the regents to be more involved in the search than they were last time around.
Regent Orin Smith, who spoke to some of the advantages of a closed process, also talked about the importance of a president who could work with lawmakers in Olympia.
“We have been perceived down there (in Olympia) as being arrogant, dismissive,” a perception that’s held true for 30 years, said Smith, a former president and CEO of Starbucks.
“We can’t give up on the Legislature, as much as it has been a no-win game for us,” Smith said. And when it comes to convincing lawmakers to fund higher education, he said, “no one can sell it like the president.”