Kathy Lynn Gray and Allison Kolodziej
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
What’ll it take to star as the next president of Ohio State University?
Top education headhunter Bill Funk, who’s found more than 250 presidents and provosts for colleges and universities over the years, makes the qualities sound superhuman: a great fundraiser, lobbyist, academician, manager, financier, visionary, consensus builder and public speaker with a sense of humor, humility, a passion for changing lives and a historic understanding of how higher education works.
"How many people are realistically, from every perspective, capable of taking that job?" Funk mused yesterday when asked what the OSU board of trustees should be looking for in its next president. Perhaps 60 to 80 people fit the profile, he estimates, although hundreds more might think they do.
Funk was surprised to learn that President Karen A. Holbrook had announced Wednesday that she’ll retire on June 30, 2007. But, he pointed out, the five years she’ll have in as president fits with the average tenure of four to six years for a public university leader. Holbrook said she’s retiring to spend more time with her husband, a retired oceanographer.
The OSU job, despite its complexity, is a very attractive one for other college presidents and provosts, said Funk, who last worked for Ohio State when he recruited William E. "Brit" Kirwan, the president before Holbrook.
He said the best candidates probably will come from other large research universities or perhaps be someone who’s worked at both a university and in a high-level government position in Washington.
One thing that probably won’t happen is for someone to jump from another Big Ten university presidency to Ohio State. Funk said that rarely happens.
Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel for the American Council on Education, said the OSU post is one of a few large-university vacancies at the moment. The others include Harvard University, the University of Iowa and Indiana University. New presidents recently were selected for the University of Colorado, the University of Arizona and Temple University, among others nationwide.
The trustees, Steinbach said, will be looking for "someone with a proven track record and someone who can seize the reins of office effectively and expeditiously," whether or not they’ve had experience working at Ohio State.
"OSU is too complex a university to have someone who hasn’t played ball in that ballpark," he said.
He said two possible candidates are Nancy L. Zimpher, University of Cincinnati president
and former dean of the OSU College of Education, and Deborah A. Freund, provost at Syracuse University. Freund had been tapped to head UCLA but pulled out of the search after learning the school wouldn’t offer her husband a job.
A third possibility could be Betsy Hoffman, who resigned as president of the University of Colorado last year, Steinbach said.
Although some potential candidates might actively seek the OSU job, often the best are the ones who haven’t even thought about a change, Funk said. He said when his firm, Korn/Ferry International, is hired to search for a president, he’ll target 10 to 20 people he thinks have the right qualifications and try to woo and cajole them into considering the job.
That’s how he lined up Kirwan in 1998. Kirwan was president of the University of Maryland at the time and told Funk he was happy where he was, but Funk brought the OSU chairman of the board of trustees to visit him anyway. Eventually, Funk persuaded Kirwan to visit Ohio State and finally Kirwan agreed to be a candidate.
"It was a classic story of seduction," Funk said.
Michael Goodman, president of OSU’s undergraduate government in 2003-04, said the university’s next leader should identify with students, faculty members, the community and state.
"The university needs to find someone who understands all the various constituencies affected by the university," he said.
The president also should guarantee a balance between the undergraduate education and research.
"When I was on campus, it was critical that (undergraduates) remain a top priority to the university," he said.
Stephen Knoepfler, current chief of staff for the Undergraduate Student Government, said the next president should continue Holbrook’s efforts, especially in academics.
"I think that President Holbrook has done a pretty good job," he said. "I don’t know if all students feel that way, but I don’t have any qualms with her. If she needs to leave to spend more time with her husband, I think family comes first."
Knoepfler, a 21-year-old junior from Cincinnati, said issues such as state funding and safety should be top concerns for the next leader.
"The next president needs to be someone who can talk easily and openly with people down at the Statehouse because funding is something that is very important to us," he said. "It directly affects our tuition dollars."
The Ohio State board of trustees is expected to begin the presidential search within the next month. Funk estimated it will take six months or more to name a new president.