Vigorous search planned to find next Penn State president

mdawson@centredaily.comNovember 15, 2012 

— The search for Penn State’s next president will involve head hunters, a search committee of faculty, staff and students, and a group of trustees to oversee the process and ultimately decide which candidate is the best to guide the university.

The process to replace President Rodney Erickson, who will leave around June 2014, was discussed by a handful of trustees Thursday during an open-door governance committee meeting. A piece of the process — creating the council of trustees — is slated to get the stamp of approval at the trustees’ voting meeting today.

“I think this university has a tremendous reputation, and we are confident we are going to get an outstanding leader despite what we’ve gone through,” said trustee James Broadhurst, who heads the governance committee, after the session Thursday.

Erickson was made the interim president when former president Graham Spanier was forced out in the early days of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal. A few days later, the interim tag was removed from Erickson’s title, and he agreed to work through June 30, 2014.

University officials hope to select the next university president by November 2013.

The presidential search is mainly behind the scenes at this point, as the committees that will do the legwork are in the process of being formed. The formal kickoff will likely happen in March, when the official announcement would be made, Broadhurst said.

The trustees council will have 13 members that include the chairs and vice chairs of the trustee committees, the student trustee, and the chair of Penn State Hershey Medical Center’s board.

The trustees council will get recommendations from a separate group composed of people from the university community: eight faculty members, two deans or chancellors, a member of the president’s executive staff, the president of the Alumni Association, and one staffer.

It will be the university group to narrow the pool of applications and pass those onto the trustees.

Trustees’ board Chairwoman Karen Peetz said the trustees council will work hand in hand with the university search committee.

University officials also say they will cast a wide net to find the next leader. They will seek candidates from academia as well as the private sector and use head hunter firms to develop what Peetz called a “very robust candidate list.”

The university did not use a head hunter in the search process that selected Spanier in the mid-1990s. Spanier came on board in 1995.

Peetz said she does not think the fallout of the Sandusky scandal and criminal cases against former senior leaders Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz will deter top candidates from applying.

The legal matters did not deter the personnel who replaced general counsel Cynthia Baldwin, Peetz said. Stephen Dunham, who came from Johns Hopkins University, said when he was hired that being general counsel at a major research university like Penn State was the “best legal job in the country.”

“That’s the kind of person we’re looking for,” she said of the next president.

Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT.

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