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UW System presidential search committee to consider applicants outside of academia

The UW System presidential search committee, which has faced criticism from all 13 campuses and Gov. Tony Evers for excluding faculty and staff, will consider non-academic applicants.

The UW System presidential search committee, which has faced criticism from all 13 campuses and Gov. Tony Evers for excluding faculty and staff, will consider non-academic applicants.

Image By: Jon Yoon

The next president of the UW System may come from outside academia.

The UW System presidential search committee approved the job’s description via conference call Friday, which does not require candidates to have a doctoral degree — therefore allowing non-academic applicants, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. 

The agreed upon description for the new leader of the UW System does specify a minimum of 10 years experience in a “significant senior executive position,” along with knowledge of public higher education.

The committee is seeking a replacement for retiring UW System President Ray Cross, who came from the field of academia when he was hired. 

Proponents of finding someone from an alternate field — such as politics or business — cite the evolving responsibilities of university leadership, while others say the position requires experience working at an institute of higher education.

While institutions like the University of Iowa, the University of Missouri System and Purdue University have selected leaders with backgrounds outside of academia in recent years, some presidents’ transitions into higher education have been easier than others, according to a 2017 State Journal report

This is not the first time the UW System has examined whether higher education leaders should come from academia or elsewhere. 

In summer 2017, then Board of Regents President John Behling said he wanted to expand recruitment of UW System chancellors, vice chancellors and presidents to include individuals from outside traditional education backgrounds, allowing for a “diverse and dynamic” pool of candidates.

Behling received pushback on this though, with comments from Jack O’Meara, a lobbyist for the UW-Madison faculty organization PROFS.

“It doesn’t make sense to have somebody who has never worked in higher ed come in to try to run the organization, just as a major company wouldn’t bring in a professor to come in and run the company,” O’Meara said.

Now, additional concerns come in the form of the presidential search committee’s composition — a nine-person group of regents and administrators. Current Board of Regents President Drew Petersen broke decades of precedent by excluding faculty and staff from the search team. 

Faculty organizations at all 13 UW System campuses passed resolutions calling on the Board of Regents to expand the search committee to include staff and faculty — a move Petersen said he will not make, citing the board’s already-diverse representation of viewpoints. 

Gov. Tony Evers, who served on the Board of Regents himself when he was state superintendent of public instruction, also asked for the expansion of the presidential search committee in a Dec. 20 letter submitted to Petersen. 

“[Selecting the next UW System president] is a responsibility that should be shared by a group representative of different perspectives and the people on whose success UW System depends — non-regent students, faculty members, and academic staff,” the letter said

Petersen has pointed to opportunities for public comment — such as an online portal and public hearings — as places for faculty and staff to have a hand in the selection process. He also said the smaller size of the committee will allow it to be “nimble” and competitive when seeking applicants. 

Finalists will be announced in early May, and the new president will be approved later in the month, according to the State Journal. 

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