Trustee Smith on presidential search

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In a matter of months, Saint Louis University will instate its 32nd president. Until then, however, the Board of Trustees and Presidential Search Committee have their work cut out for them.

Since the retirement of Lawrence Biondi, S.J., and the creation of the Presidential Search Committee in September, plans for finding SLU’s next president have steadily progressed and are reportedly right on track. Eleven carefully-selected individuals, headed by chairman of the Search Committee and board trustee Jim Smith, have spent the past three months working towards an efficient and successful way to fill the presidency position. Aiding in this effort is search firm AGB Search of Washington, D.C. and their managing partner Dr. James Ferrare.

The Search Committee is comprised of six board trustees and five other members representative of key stakeholder groups: SGA, the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Law, the School of Nursing and the Faculty Senate. These members have been entrusted with the ultimate responsibility of carrying out the search and evaluating candidates, while using care to have the SLU community’s best interests in mind.

“It has been a good, working committee and that has helped us make progress,” commented Smith. “So there has been very little discord…they’ve been able to work through things.”

AGB’s role in the process has been no small one, either, as Ferrare and four others have provided the Committee with guidance both in assembling the Search Committee and in conducting the presidential search. The firm has helped in identifying many of the people that the committee has spoken with for the search, whether that be candidates or people with recommendations. AGB has also played a large part in identifying best practices for the search and in helping to create the position profile for the new president.

The profile was built input from two campus forums, the Madrid administration, the Arts and Sciences faculty committees, SGA, the Faculty Senate, college deans and essentially every other group on campus.

“That’s another part that has been good: all of the work that has been done to identify the position description,” said Smith. “I think that was important because we were able to explain what we were trying to do in the search, and we got a lot of feedback that was helpful in designing the position description.”

In the profile, the committee has provided a detailed and thorough description of every aspect that they felt each candidate should reflect and value. Overall, those include a commitment to the Jesuit mission, a decisive and inclusive leadership style, an ability to effectively fundraise on behalf of the university and a vision for future education.

Smith said that candidates must not only vouch for these characteristics, but must also somehow prove to the committee that they will effectively portray them and follow through in each of these departments.

“If we recommend three [candidates], it’s because we think that any one of those three could be a good president—and it won’t be any more than three,” stated Smith.

Currently, the committee is still taking nominations and is in the process of identifying candidates, talking with them and reducing the pool to a more manageable number. Reference checks and background checks have been a critical part of the search, and by the end of this stage they hope to have around 10-12 people – at which point the interviewing phase will begin.

In an effort to ensure consistency with each interview and to encourage an open process, the Search Committee is creating standardized questions and will interview each candidate as a group. After thorough evaluations and various meetings, they look to ideally have two to three candidates by the end of Feb. whom they will recommend to the Board.

While unable to disclose any specific profile information about the individual candidates, Smith did reveal that included in the group are Jesuits, women and even current presidents of other universities. Despite the most crucial steps still ahead, he remains appeased about the search progress thus far.

“It’s a good mixture of Jesuits, laymen, laywomen…and from there we think there’s a high likelihood we’ll have a good president from the groups we have identified,” said Smith. “It’s going to be interesting going forward…we have a lot to do yet.”