Clemson search committee seeks input from faculty, students on what’s needed in next president

rbarnett@greenvilleonline.comJune 19, 2013 

— Members of the committee in charge of finding the right person to be Clemson University’s next president spent Monday and Tuesday hearing from constituent groups across campus, some of whom told trustees Tuesday that the new leader must work to overcome a growing sense of cynicism felt by some faculty toward the administration.

None of the speakers at a forum on the presidential search at the Madren Center on Tuesday aimed criticism at current President Jim Barker, who announced in April that he plans to step down when the Board of Trustees names a successor.

“I’d recommend you seek a carbon copy of Jim,” Robert Geist, a computer science professor, told the committee.

Parker Rhoden, student body vice president, said Barker has had a very open relationship with students, and he hopes the next president will be as approachable.

But others said they have been disappointed in the response of the administration, particularly on levels below the president, to faculty input on strategic planning and other issues.

Sean Brittain, a professor of physics and astronomy, said the attitude many have is, “Don’t bother submitting a proposal. Nothing will come of it.”

“It strikes me that the president isn’t going to be able to unilaterally take us anywhere unless he or she is going to rely on buy-in from faculty and staff,” he said. “So I think one of the biggest challenges our next president is going to face in achieving the goals that you lay out for this president is going to be overcoming a raising atmosphere of cynicism among faculty and staff on campus.”

The relatively low turnout at Tuesday’s forum is a symptom of that, he said. About 50 people showed up for the event, although others were watching it streamed online on campus.

Julia Frugoli, a genetics and biochemistry professor, said she asked three of her colleagues about coming to Tuesday’s forum, and their response was, “Why bother coming? They won’t listen.”

“Cynicism is a very big problem,” she said.

But she added that she believes Barker has done a good job of “setting the stage” for what another speaker at the forum called “the big jump” to the next level in research.

She was referring to comments made by George Chumanov, a chemistry professor, who said he hopes the next president takes on a major initiative, such as starting a veterinary school.

He also urged the trustees to look for someone who would refocus Clemson on research, rather than undergraduate education first.

“Universities in the country and around the world are judged by scientific accomplishments,” said Chumanov, whose research involves the study of nanoparticles. “Graduate and undergraduate education will follow if you have a great, great scientific institution.”

Asked after the meeting about the cynicism spoken of, Smyth McKissick, a trustee who is chairing the search committee, told GreenvilleOnline.com that he isn’t surprised.

“Is it something we should pay attention to? Absolutely,” he said.

On the question of whether undergraduate education or research should be preeminent at Clemson, McKissick said, “I am sure that amongst the entire Clemson family there are lots of diverse opinions about the role of research. We do economic development, we do teaching, we do research, we do all of those things. And I think research will always be a critical opponent of Clemson University.”

He said members of the committee had met with constituents from student government, faculty and staff senates, presidential commissions, the Clemson University Foundation, IPTAY, the Board of Visitors, the Alumni Association, the Extension Senate, and the Administrative Council, among others, for input on the presidential search.

He told the group at the forum, “Nothing is more important than us making sure we get someone who is the right fit for Clemson University. And that’s what this process is all about. We want to make sure that we hear from the entire Clemson family and can articulate those attributes that are so necessary in getting the right fit.”

“Nothing is more important than us getting this part of it right.”

The board has hired the search firm of William Funk & Associates of Dallas to seek out candidates.

Funk told the group Tuesday that Clemson faces plenty of competition for qualified applicants, with Penn State, the University of Michigan, Ohio State and Virginia Tech all in various stages of seeking new presidents.

His firm will be gathering names over the next couple of months and narrow the list down to 10-15 individuals for background checks, before selecting six to 10 for the search committee to interview, he said.

The search committee will choose three or four from that group for the full board to consider, he said.

The search committee will compile the input it received on campus this week and meet again on June 27, when it could work out the wording of the job description and advertising for the full board’s consideration, said Angie Leidinger, executive secretary to the board.

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