TXEXplainer: The Presidential Search

TXEXplainer: The Presidential Search

You’ve probably heard that sometime soon the University of Texas will have a new president. Later this spring, the Board of Regents will appoint the 29th leader in UT’s 132-year history, and June 2 will be Bill Powers’ last day on the job. Here’s how the process works.

How will Powers’ successor be hired?

The Board of Regents is in charge of finding the next president, and to that end it has established a Presidential Search Advisory Committee (see a list of the members here). Among the members are UT System regents and administrators; UT-Austin deans, faculty, alumni, and one student; and prominent community members. Texas Exes president Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is also a member.

While the committee plays an important role in the process, the Board of Regents gets the final say. The UT System website states that the function of the committee is to “Present names of potential candidates to the Board which will make a final decision.” The Board isn’t bound to the decision of the committee and ostensibly could make its own decision without regard to the committee, although that scenario is unlikely.

Who else is involved?

In addition to the search committee, Spencer Stuart, a prominent executive search consulting firm, is aiding UT in the search for the next president. Use of search firms for positions like this is standard practice. The university used Wheless Partners, a similar firm, to find Chancellor Cigarroa’s replacement. Mary Gorman, one the consultants contracted by UT, is currently aiding in the search for a new dean at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business.

Gorman’s experience lies in finding executive talent in the worlds of education, nonprofits, and government. Tom Simmons, the other Spencer Stuart consultant, has a résumé that leans more toward energy and oil and gas; however, he earned his BBA and MBA from UT-Austin, potentially giving him a perspective that other professionals may not have.

Any idea of who it might be?

Not surprisingly, there’s been no shortage of gossip about the decision. In December rumors swirled that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was a frontrunner, but former UT president and search committee co-chair Larry Faulkner quickly denied that claim, telling the Austin American-Statesman on Dec 12, “The committee hasn’t started front-runnering anybody.” Then Rice herself spoke up, saying she is not a candidate and plans to stay at Stanford, where she is a professor of political economy.

UT System executive director of public affairs Jenny LaCoste-Caputo confirmed that the board, Spencer Stuart, and the search committee all intend to keep candidates’ names confidential. She cited privacy concerns, noting that candidates may be dissuaded from participating in the process if their identities were publicized.

Though no names have been released, UT System has a released a list of desired traits for candidates. According to the list, the UT System wants amiable candidates with strong leadership experience in education or health, with strong ties to business leaders and policy-makers who have a good understanding of higher education and its evolution. It’s worth nothing that in the 120 years since the post was created, UT has had only one female president (Lorene Lane Rogers, who served from 1974-79) and no presidents of color.

It’s possible that there could be divisions between the search committee—which represents larger segments of UT, many of whom have supported Powers and his approach to education—and the regents, who have had a penchant for efficiency initiatives designed to make the university more affordable and businesslike, in line with the ideology of their appointer, Governor Perry. Nothing is certain, though. In the past, the board has sometimes deviated from Perry. During the chancellor search, the regents opted out of picking Perry’s suggested Kyle Janek for chancellor in favor Admiral McRaven.

What point are we at in the process?

The search committee has already finished first- and second-round interviews, according to LaCoste-Caputo. After those interviews, the committee provides a list of top candidates to the Board of Regents, and those candidates will visit campus and meet with key administrators. The regents will conduct their own interviews and then vote on a finalist or finalists. While the board has the option to select multiple finalists, there will most likely be only one. According to the tentative timeline, the board may name the next president in March.

Photo by KamrenB Photography


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