Discussions about the University of Colorado’s presidential search were a priority for the Board of Regents at its retreat July 12-14 in Tabernash. On each of the three days, the board held sessions that ranged from the administrative mechanics of the search to the process as outlined in Regent Policy 3-C to the qualities the board should seek in its next president.
Following the retreat, the board directed the administration to issue an RFP (request for proposals) for a search firm, engage in a series of listening tours inside and outside the university, and create an administrative support team for the search. The board also reiterated its commitment to regular communication with the university community as the search proceeds.
On the second day of the retreat, the board received a variety of perspectives on the search process, the job of president and the views and role of the faculty and other important university stakeholders in the presidential search process. The board heard some lessons learned from CU’s most recent presidential search from Regent Heidi Ganahl, who co-chaired the search committee, and CU Boulder Chief Operating Officer Patrick O’Rourke, who was secretary to the board in 2017 and provided lead administrative support to the search.
Ganahl and O’Rourke agreed that Regent Policy 3-C, which provides a framework for the search, is a sound roadmap. Both pointed to the importance of an effective search committee, whose composition is detailed in 3-C.
“The search committee selection process is like putting a puzzle together,” Ganahl said. “That’s something we can start doing right now.”
Proposed revisions are currently available for review and comment on the Board of Regents website. Governance Committee meetings are still being scheduled, but the board office anticipates that a Governance Committee meeting will be scheduled in advance of the Sept. 9 board meeting. It will undergo refinements in the coming weeks through the ordinary Regent Governance Committee process.
Following adoptions of changes to Policy 3-C, the next step for the board will be to select a search firm, elect regents to lead the search committee, establish a position description and charge to the search committee, and define the search committee make-up. Most of these steps are likely to take place at the September board meeting.
O’Rourke said that while Policy 3-C outlines which university constituents should serve on the search committee, those committee members should clearly understand their role, particularly community members.
“People in various roles have to understand what is asked of them. Committee members aren’t necessarily representing constituents, they are bringing perspective of those constituencies,” he said.
Yet he also said the board needs to understand the committee is the board’s proxy for a considerable part of the search.
“The main thing the search committee wants to hear is, you trust them to do their work and you’re going to leave them alone to do it,” O’Rourke said.
He encouraged the regents to be deliberate in developing and delivering the charge to the committee. He also said the board should address the issue early on of the number of finalists it expects.
“I would encourage you to be as transparent as possible about how many finalists you intend to have,” he said.
During the second part of the session, the campus chancellors provided the board with insight about how a system president can add value to campus activities. CU Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano noted that there wasn’t a system president before 1974, but when the position was established and housed on the Boulder campus, it led to great confusion. When the system office moved to Denver in 2006, it not only brought clarity to who runs the Boulder campus, but also elevated the other campuses.
System Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Lightner provided the board perspective about how the faculty views the presidency and the search. He noted there is no monolithic definition of the faculty, and that no matter their rank or campus, faculty have full lives independent of search considerations. He said the faculty wants to be able to have a voice in the decision, see a fair-and-open process and avoid controversy.
The board also heard from Jack Finlaw, president and CEO of the CU Foundation, and Mary Sissel, chair of the CU Foundation Board, about the role of the president in fundraising.
They noted that donors should be viewed as investors in the organization, and one of their prime imperatives is having confidence in the leadership of the organization. They also said the role of the president in fundraising may be overstated. Finlaw said former CU President Bruce Benson was the exception to that rule.
“Bruce Benson had a particular gift, but not every president does,” he said. “They need to be that spokesperson for higher education, a real advocate who can articulate the value of higher education and give the donors confidence.”
Sissel said communicating with donors and with the Foundation Board is also essential.
“We found out how very significant it is. Donors need to have a really good feel for who you are, what’s important to you, how you make decisions, how you communicate,” she said. “When they are unhappy, it’s like an unhappy investor in a company. If they don’t have confidence in leadership, it’s a problem.”
The Board of Regents closed its retreat with a wide-ranging discussion of the attributes it wants to see in a president. Guided by previous job descriptions and considering the qualities the most recent people to hold the job have brought, the board, chancellors and executive team articulated what they viewed as must-have qualities and nice-to-have qualities.
“This is a thought experiment, this is not a decision-making point,” said Jeremy Hueth, secretary to the board and university counsel.
In addition to obvious skills – such as the ability to run a complex operation, an understanding of higher education and CU, and a collaborator – the attributes discussed included honesty, integrity and trust, first and foremost. The board also wants someone who can be a champion for CU and higher education. The next president should also understand and appreciate the unique missions of the campuses, and value and promote diversity. He or she must be a collaborative thought leader.
Hueth said the list will continue to grow and be refined as the board engages in outreach with various groups inside and outside the university.