Trustees | Trusteeship

UT chancellor’s post could prove popular with job-seekers

KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL   |  June 25, 2016 by MJ Slaby

In early 2017, the University of Tennessee will still be booming with construction and working toward its Top 25 goal.

The end of a one-year defunding of the campus’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion will be a few months away. The next legislative session will be ending. A decision from the chancellor about whether to outsource building maintenance and management will be looming. In the distance will be the May 2018 trial set for a federal Title IX lawsuit. Football season will have come and gone.

And a new leader of the flagship campus will have moved into Andy Holt Tower.

On Tuesday, Chancellor Jimmy Cheek announced he was stepping down to return to teaching. The same day, UT President Joe DiPietro selected Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search to help find the chancellor’s replacement.

Parker has helped UT fill at least 10 leadership positions, including four in athletics, in the past eight years. Those searches led to the hiring of Cheek, Athletic Director Dave Hart, former Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Rickey Hall and others.

Higher education and intercollegiate athletics rank among Parker’s specialties, according to the firm’s website. The company has also been behind several controversial hirings at universities across the country in recent years.

The job of leading UT’s flagship campus is expected to be a popular one among candidates, according to higher education experts. But some of those experts warned against university leaders leaning too much on a search firm.

When there is a leadership search at UT, whoever conducts the search, in this case DiPietro, picks between two firms that were selected in 2014 — Parker and Myers McRae Executive Search and Consulting, based in Macon, Ga. — said Gina Stafford, UT spokeswoman.

University leaders said Parker was selected for its experience.

“Parker Executive Search has an extensive national network of contacts and familiarity with the university, having assisted with numerous past UT searches at the most senior levels,” Linda Hendricks Harig, UT vice president for human resources said in an email Friday.

Those searches also include the ultimate hirings of Vice Chancellor for Research Taylor Eighmy and Steve Magnum, dean of the Haslam College of Business.

Parker was also involved in searches that brought Cheek and UT Institute of Agriculture Chancellor Larry Arrington to UT from the University of Florida. And Chancellor Steve Schwab of the UT Health Science Center in Memphis was also hired from a Parker search.

In athletics, Parker aided searches that resulted in the hirings of former basketball coach Cuonzo Martin and former football coach Derek Dooley, as well as current baseball coach Dave Serrano.

Search firms play an increasingly important role on campuses, said James Finkelstein, professor emeritus of public policy at George Mason University. His research includes higher education’s use of search firms.

Finkelstein estimated about 75 percent of higher education executive searches use search firms.

He said universities are drawn to search firms because they believe a firm is objective and has search expertise. Also, search firms stress that they have connections and can recruit discreetly.

Those reasons sell university boards, Finkelstein said, noting the university boards are “outsourcing” one of their primary responsibilities.

According to Finkelstein, Parker recently conducted searches for Eastern Michigan University, the University of Southern Mississippi, Georgia Southern University and others.

Parker has had a hand in hirings that became controversial: the businessman turned University of Iowa president Bruce Harreld, for example, who was criticized for an inaccurate resume, and the University of Minnesota’s former athletic director, Norwood Teague, who was ousted after sexual harassment allegations.

Parker also helped with searches for several NCAA executives, including president Mark Emmert.

In 2013, Parker helped Rutgers University hire then-UT volleyball coach Julie Hermann as athletic director. But the firm failed to find out Herrmann was accused of verbally abusing UT players in the 1990s, according to USA Today. Hermann is no longer athletic director at Rutgers.

Under the five-year contract between UT and Parker, the firm will conduct the UT chancellor search for $75,000, the fixed cost for a search for a position with a salary of more than $250,000 annually. Cheek’s starting base salary in 2009 was $345,000. As of October, his base pay was $447,492.

Finkelstein said of the schools Parker worked with in his database, the fixed fees ranged from $63,000 to $120,000, so the UT amount is on the lower end.

In the contract between UT and Parker, expenses for long-distance telephone calls, research and delivery services, background checks, consultant travel and interview expenses are in addition to the fixed fee. Those costs can’t exceed $7,500, according to the contract.

Fees for advertising, committee interview and travel expenses, and candidate travel expenses are invoiced separately.

The funds for the search will be paid for by the state education and general funds, Stafford said.

Also in the contract is a provision that if a new chancellor leaves in the first year, Parker will conduct a new search, charging expenses only.

Leading UT means financial and political pressures, but that won’t scare people away, said Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, an advocacy group for public universities.

McPherson, who said he thinks highly of Cheek, said UT’s research, range of disciplines and relationship with Oak Ridge National Laboratory make the chancellor’s position a “big time” role.

“It’s a very attractive job,” McPherson said.

According to members of the UT Board of Trustees as well as DiPietro and Cheek, it’s the momentum on campus that attracts new hires and will attract the next chancellor.

Administrators and coaches come to UT “because they want to be a part of what’s going on,” Cheek said last week. ” They see where we are going and want to be part of this major transformation.”

While some schools are turning to candidates with nonprofit, corporate and political backgrounds to be leaders, UT’s president said Friday he has a more traditional candidate in mind.

DiPietro said Friday he wants candidates with “significant academic experience within higher education” as well as those with leadership experience at institutions similar in size and mission to UT.

Raymond D. Cotton, a D.C. lawyer who represents university boards and presidents across the country, said in most cases, the best candidates for president and chancellor positions come from higher education because they understand the mission. Boards also want good fundraisers who can get along with the faculty and manage the day-to-day business of the university, he said.

Cotton said those in higher education tend to stick to one type of institution, so he would expect candidates for UT chancellor to be provosts from land-grant universities.

Deans of large colleges or schools within a university, presidents of smaller public colleges and university leaders who are unhappy or underpaid are also possibilities, he said.

But Michael Poliakoff, incoming president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, another advocacy group, warned against moving sitting presidents and chancellors from one institution to another as search firms tend to do.

Those candidates are attractive because they are low risk, but it also “reinforces the status quo,” he said. Yet sitting leaders might be difficult to attract to UT because finalists have public on-campus interviews, McPherson said.

He said agriculture deans, like Cheek, and hospital administrators have an advantage because they are used to external roles with the state in addition to university roles.

Experts said pushback from lawmakers and students, like Cheek saw this year during controversies over diversity funding and the Lady Vols name, is to be expected in a chancellor’s job and not a drawback that would reduce the candidate pool.

Universities don’t need leaders that fold at a campus protest or to lawmakers, Poliakoff said.

And that’s another way that search firms appeal to universities by saying they’ll help the school identify issues and be in a position not to scare off the best candidates, Finkelstein said.

“These are very challenging jobs today,” he said. “It’s been a difficult year for higher education.”


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