Let me describe the difficulties in hiring a college president.
Number 1 – You must look for a president who has been a president before as nothing qualifies a president to be a president more than being a president. Too often systems hire provosts from other systems to move into a president’s job and it simply doesn’t work.
Number 2 – UNLV needs its new president to have been a former college president. Other than Carol Harter, UNLV has never hired a college president who was a president of some other university. That creates a big risk.
Number 3 – You don’t want to hire a president who doesn’t presently have a job. Those presidents who are out of work are out of work for a good reason and you don’t want them.
Number 4 – The field of candidates for president is at most 50. Because all those 50 are presently employed, it’s difficult to get them to apply.
Number 5 – If you can get a presently-sitting president interested in the job, these are the risks they run. If they apply for the job at your school, they’ll be terminated at the end of the year at their school even if they don’t get your job. Therefore, few sitting presidents want to take the risk of applying for the job unless they are guaranteed the job at the time they apply and that can’t happen.
Number 6 – Hiring a college president is a very difficult and very public affair. Everyone associated with the institution wants to be able to interview that person, express an opinion of that person’s competence and see if that candidate is compatible with the environment of the university.
Number 7 - How then do you simply look for a president without prejudicing that president’s present job? Simply hire a company that is a headhunter to seek out the candidates.
Number 8 - When I was the Chancellor, I found headhunters were very competent in what they do. They know every president of every major university in the United States. That number is between 100 and 150 presidents. When retained, the headhunter will then talk to the presidents they believe might want a new job.
Number 9 - Headhunters are not required to inform the university seeking the new president of those presidents with whom they are speaking. If they did so, the information would be leaked and the president would find his or her job prejudiced.
Number 10 – The institution will probably have the headhunter reduce the potential candidates to three or five, and with the permission of the candidates, the names will be released to the Board of Regents who will pursue the hiring of the new president.
Number 11- Applying for a job of a new president of a university is taking your life and career into your hands. One false move and you end up with no job.
I have been involved in at least 15 presidential searches at various universities. It is the most ticklish position to be involved in. One of the primary representations you must make to the applicant is that there has been no decision already made by the governing board and that the search is merely a cover for supporting a prior in-house candidate for the job.
UNLV is mature enough to be able to recruit a first-class president who has served as a president of a first-class university. I don’t want to see this Board of Regents screw this search up like it did in the hiring of Don Snyder as the acting president.
If I were the president at a major university and saw how the selection of Don Snyder was made, I would never prejudice my present position as a college president by becoming involved in a selection process that is at least suspect.