Presidential search committee receives update on survey results

Alumni make up largest group of respondents


University President Teresa Sullivan announced in January that she will be stepping down when her contract expires in the summer of 2018.

Sarah Lindamood | Cavalier Daily

The Board of Visitors Presidential Search Committee met Thursday morning to review the process so far and discuss feedback they have received from their online survey and forums they have hosted around Grounds. The committee then moved into a closed session to deliberate on the specific candidates.

The University is partnering with the Isaacson, Miller executive search firm for expert assistance throughout the process. Isaacson, Miller Chair John Isaacson explained how current candidates for the position are organized on several lists for the committee’s use during the selection process. One of the most important lists, according to Isaacson, is the “priority list” which contains individuals they think are strong contenders and ought to be given serious consideration.

“We’ll pull in names … these are fluid lists, they’re going to move all the way through this,” Isaacson said.

At the same time, nobody ever disappears, Isaacson said. If the committee decides to take a candidate out of the running, that individual’s name is not removed from the data, simply placed on a different list.

Rector William Goodwin Jr. expressed a desire to have the list of primary candidates down to 10 or 12 individuals by the committee’s meeting in June.

“We’re not trying to take every name we can and decide we want to look at everybody in depth,” Goodwin said. “[We’re] trying to reduce it down to the handful of people we really think we ought to be pursuing.”

The committee also focused on the efforts they have made to engage the University community and other constituencies to get their input on the process.

The University created a website dedicated to the presidential search. The site includes a survey anyone can complete to share what they wish to see in the next president.

At the meeting, Margaret Grundy, chief of staff to the vice president and chief student affairs officer, provided an overview of the responses they have collected from the survey, which is still open to the public.

The first question on the survey asks individuals to identify the top three themes they feel most powerfully express the University’s identity. The top three responses were academic excellence, tradition and history and the honor system, respectively.

With respect to what issues respondents consider the most important priorities for a new president of the University, the majority selected “remaining a leader in national higher education.” The second and third most common responses were “recruiting and retaining high-quality faculty” and “maintaining access and affordability.”

The next two questions focus on the president and individual requirements and qualifications they ought to have. Most respondents said the most important personal characteristic for the president to have in order to be successful is good judgment and decision-making skills.

The majority of survey participants believe the next president should have experience in leading complex organizations. The second most popular requirement was a background in academia following by an understanding of academic research and then fundraising experience.

The survey is open to the entire public but the biggest constituency base is alumni, Grundy said.

Nearly twice as many alumni have responded to the survey than the second most responsive group, residents of the Commonwealth, with 1,743 responses from alumni and 900 from Virginia residents. The third largest group is undergraduate students with 605 responses.

The last question in the survey is open ended, allowing users to include any other information or opinions they have on the process. Grundy said common responses include the desire for a strong leader as well as the significance of diversity and inclusion.

The committee discussed potentially closing the survey at the end of the semester. This would enable them to “give a more robust discussion” of the data at their meeting in June, Grundy said.

For the remainder of the open session, committee members delivered updates on their efforts throughout the process so far. Many have hosted forums and meetings with groups affected by the University including faculty from each of the schools, students, alumni, parents and members of the Virginia legislature.

Fourth-year College student and committee member Aryn Frazier discussed feedback from the forums the committee has held around Grounds for students.

Most students seem interested in a president who has experience dealing with crises and has the ability to communicate with students, both in person and on social media, Frazier said. Many students also focused on affordability, diversity and inclusion and the need for a president who understands the importance of student self-governance while not using it as a means to put all responsibility on students.

Committee member and Board member L.D. Britt met with members of the U.Va. Health System, and they expressed their desire for a president who has some association with the University, either by having a degree from the University or some other affiliation.

Vice Rector Frank Conner III read a comprehensive summary of characteristics and qualifications many think the next president should possess.

“It’s widely believed that our next president should be a distinguished … leader [and] … effective spokesperson,” Conner said.

The president should also uphold core values of the University, have strategic vision and develop and implement innovative strategies for the changing academic landscape, Conner said.

The next major event the committee is hosting is a public forum on the Presidential search April 21 in the Newcomb Hall Ballroom. The next Board of Visitors meeting is scheduled for June 8 and 9.

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