OSU sets standards high for its next president
Saturday, February 03, 2007
Kathy Lynn Gray

Let the speculation begin.

Ohio State University trustees approved a laundry list of qualifications yesterday that they want in the school’s next president, a list that made one national expert ask, "Are they expecting all those characteristics in one person? "

Ohio State President Karen A. Holbrook is retiring in June, and trustees hope to have a new leader by then. A 24-member search committee and a search firm compiled the profile last month and expect to begin culling through candidates soon.

Trustee Alex Shumate, head of the search committee, wouldn’t reveal any potential candidates’ names or even how many there are on the list. But several names surfaced yesterday when current and former leaders from national university associations and search firms were asked who might be in the pool.

The two mentioned most often were University of Cincinnati President Nancy L. Zimpher and Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow.

But Claire Van Ummersen, vice president for the Center for Effective Leadership at the American Council on Education, said there are 30 or 40 others across the country who would meet the broad qualifications that the board has set.

"This is a highly desirable job that has to attract a host of desirable candidates," said Sheldon Steinbach, a Washington lawyer who until recently worked for the American Council on Education. "If you have a good search firm, they will bring people out of the woodwork who would not necessarily be thought of as a candidate."

Besides attributes such as being a visionary, an innovator, an intellectual and a great communicator, the board is looking for someone with leadership experience at an urban university and a land-grant institution that’s also a teaching and research university.

Candidates could include people who currently hold positions at those types of schools or who previously held them, said Peter Magrath, former director of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

That widens the list.

But one criterion not in the profile might narrow the field considerably. Shumate wants a president who would stay at the university for eight to 10 years.

"The pools are very shallow when you start applying criteria like this," education headhunter Bill Funk said. "People don’t get to be presidents the first time until they’re in their 50s."

Funk said the competition is strong now for presidents of big universities because three other Big 10 searches are going on: Purdue University, the University of Iowa and Indiana University. Funk is conducting the Purdue search.

Both Crow and Zimpher meet OSU’s qualifications regarding leadership at land-grant, metropolitan, research universities.

Crow, 51, has extensive research background as vice provost at Columbia University in New York and as a research director at Iowa State University, which is a land-grant school.

He is considered an innovative and entrepreneurial leader who has been praised for rapidly increasing the amount of research done at Arizona State.

Zimpher, 60, has land-grant experience from Ohio State, where she was an executive dean in the College of Education. Before she became UC’s president in 2003 she was chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

She’s led the charge in recent years to bring more accountability to Ohio universities in exchange for state funding to improve Ohio’s economy.

Neither Crow nor Zimpher is known to be looking for another job.

In November, Zimpher’s board extended her contract until 2009 and announced that it wants to negotiate another five-year contract with her.

Zimpher could not be reached late yesterday.

A spokesman for Arizona State said that Crow said the OSU search is "nothing I know anything about."