Sunshine Laws Raise the Stakes in USF Poly Search For New Regional Chancellor
LAKELAND | When University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft removed the leader of the Polytechnic campus from office, she knew hiring a new regional chancellor would be quite a project.
“References are typically written and submitted, which risks the real plus and minus assessment, since no one … would say anything derogatory.”
Ted Muendel, Stanton Chase International
Florida’s Sunshine Law means the search for a new chancellor is conducted publicly — and that raises a great challenge for all involved.
Applicants can’t put their hat in the ring quietly. Their current employers and employees will know exactly what’s going on. The interview process is open to the public, so any comments, notations or evaluations are open to the public.
The search for a qualified candidate for a high-ranking position such as regional chancellor is challenging by itself, and when you add the Sunshine Law challenges, it becomes even trickier.
Genshaft knows how involved the search for a top-ranking professional is in the world of academia. Not only has she applied for positions herself with this process, she’s hired her share of leaders in the USF system.
It was only a little less than six years ago that Genshaft and a team of experts worked for many months to find Marshall Goodman, who was chosen out of a pool of 60 applicants to become CEO and regional chancellor of the Lakeland campus.
Four finalists were selected from that group of 60, and each came to the area for tours and meetings before a decision was made.
Now it’s time to do it again. A committee has been formed to make up a diverse advisory volunteer group, and a professional recruiter has been retained to find candidates to fill the position.
“I am very, very pleased at the process,” Genshaft said at a recent meeting with the State University System Board of Governors. “We tried to get as diverse a group as possible on the committee.”
She introduced the board to Bill Funk of the Dallas-based R. William Funk and Associates who will be looking for candidates.
State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan said the position should attract some terrific candidates, particularly because it is a “blank palette” and the recruit can start a new university from scratch.
Genshaft said the salary for the role will probably range between $250,000 and $300,000.
Funk said the process usually takes about six months, but when there is urgency, it can be accomplished sometimes in four.
Funk’s firm has been responsible for recruiting several university leaders, including the president of Cornell University, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, president of the University of Southern California and president of the University of Virginia.
He told The Ledger it’s true the Sunshine Law is a hindrance, but he anticipates the job will still draw in some top-notch candidates. “While the Sunshine Laws in Florida do discourage some individuals from becoming active candidates, we have been able to recruit robust pools of candidates to other public institutions in the state,” Funk said.
There are several pluses, he said. “We believe that this will be an attractive opportunity to many excellent candidates,” he said. “The opportunity to build a campus essentially from scratch does not come along often.”
The University of South Florida is a strong employer as well, he said. While the campus is undergoing a process to become independent, it is now part of the USF system. “USF is perceived nationally as an institution which is rapidly on the rise, and we anticipate that candidates will view positively the opportunity to work with President Genshaft and her administration,” he said. “We are confident that we will be able to assemble a strong pool of candidates.”
Ted Muendel, managing director of Stanton Chase International in Baltimore, has conducted searches in the academic sector. He said there is a dramatic difference between corporate recruiting and searching for a university chancellor. “Essentially, a corporate recruitment process is more effective and efficient (regarding) the methodology and steps,” he said.
APPLYING ON AN OPEN STAGE
The open stage of the academic world makes recruiting, applying and hiring a tricky business.
“The academic world is an open one, and information is shared freely,” Muendel said. “The process follows this openness, and typically all candidates are ‘applicants’ or made to appear so. A search committee is a political group with varying agendas and the process of vetting candidates takes a long time, and all candidates who apply are ranked by some criteria and reviewed.”
The ranking itself can be difficult, experts say, because all comments are public. “References are typically written and submitted, which risks the real plus and minus assessment, since no one in our litigious society would say anything derogatory,” Muendel said.
Another problem, he said, is in the candidate pool attracted during a public search. “I have observed firsthand that the best candidates are not always advanced in the process because of political agendas,” Muendel said.
Funk also said the Sunshine Law makes the candidate draw a bit tricky. “Because of the Sunshine Law, some candidates will wait until the last possible moment before they submit their applications and resumes,” Funk said. “Their thinking is that the shorter the period of time their name is in the public domain, the less angst and concern their candidacy will cause on their home campus.”
Candidates don’t take a decision to try for a job lightly when the world is watching. “Other candidates will have to be given assurances that their candidacies will be given serious consideration before they officially throw their hats into the ring,” Funk said.
“They don’t want to be a public candidate and jeopardize their current position unless they feel that there is a realistic possibility of being chosen. So these open searches do require a bit more hand holding, nurturing and cajoling.”
The USF Poly Regional Chancellor Search Advisory Committee is made up of 14 volunteers and four support team members.
Members are Lance Anastasio, president and CEO of Winter Haven Hospital; Jeff Chamberlin, vice president for real estate, Publix Super Markets Inc.; Damon Dennis, USF Poly Student Government president; James Epps, USF Poly faculty; Allessio Gaspar, USF Poly faculty; Eileen Holden, president of Polk State College; Sherry Kragler, president of the USF Poly Faculty Senate; Brian Lamb, USF Board of Trustees; Elizabeth Larkin, USF System Faculty Council representative; Ron Morrow, USF Poly Campus Board; Sherrie Nickell, superintendent of the Polk County School System; Ava Parker, State University System of Florida Board of Governors; Margaret Sullivan, chair and regional chancellor at USF St. Petersburg; and Latimer “Coot” Wilson, chairman of the board, Citizens Bank and Trust.
The support team includes Cindy Visot, chief of staff/assistant corporate secretary at USF, recruiter Funk, Noreen Segrest, USF Foundation general counsel; and Tammy Brown, assistant to the chief of staff.
Funk said the group most likely will be talking with candidates who do not currently hold positions as president or chancellor of a university. “The primary difference we have seen in the two kinds of searches is that sitting presidents and/or chancellors typically will not agree to be an active candidate in an open search,” he said.
“We are still able to attract excellent candidates, but the reality is that the presidents and chancellors do not want to do anything that will alienate their home boards or undermine their ability to continue effectively leading their current institutions.”
The first search committee meeting is Feb. 17 at the USF Poly campus at 8:30 a.m.
[ Mary Toothman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 863-802-7512. Her Twitter feed is @MaryToothman.]