The pending retirement of Transylvania University's longtime President Charles L. Shearer has set into motion a process that hasn't occurred on the Lexington campus in nearly three decades: a presidential search.
The last time the school cast a national net to find a new president was 1982, and it didn't end well. The chosen candidate resigned after just 10 months.
Transylvania's leaders recently picked a search committee, which will have its first meeting Dec. 2. And the committee is seeking input from every corner of the campus community — faculty, staff, alumni and students.
"I think we're all sort of feeling our way," said William T. Young Jr., the Lexington businessman who chairs the university's board of trustees.
It was Young's father, the late William T. Young Sr., who promoted Shearer to president on July 10, 1983. Shearer, then vice president for finance, replaced David G. Brown, who resigned after losing the respect and confidence of faculty and failing to bolster enrollment as promised.
Shearer not only provided Transylvania a steadying hand but bolstered the school's endowment funds, oversaw construction of new buildings and connected with faculty and students.
"I want to see someone just like Charles Shearer," said Young Jr., who is heading up the search committee, when asked what he's looking for in candidates. "In my own view, you want someone who has some academic credentials but someone who understands business because it really is a business."
Young assembled a search committee of prominent trustees — including a federal judge, a former newspaper editor and business stalwarts — as well as the current vice president for finance and business, one student and a longtime professor. The faculty elected two more professors, Nancy Coleman Wolsk and John Furlong, to serve on the committee.
Sharon Brown, professor of physical education and exercise science, who serves as presiding officer of the faculty, said the search process seems to be starting out transparent and inclusive.
The committee will interview and potentially select a search firm at its Dec. 2 meeting, Young said. From there, the firm will set the time line, he said.
Shearer, who announced on Oct. 24 that he planned to retire in June 2010, has said he will stay on another year if a replacement isn't found.
Don Dugi, a political science professor who is one of just 13 current faculty members who were on staff when Shearer was hired, said he'd like to see the next president continue Shearer's efforts in collecting donations for scholarships and professorships.
"It's nice to have vision, but you've got to be able to pay for it," he said.
Another Shearer trait that's often cited as a must for the next president is his connection with students.
"He's involved at every level of campus life and gets to know the students," said Tyler Murphy, a senior political science major from Flatwoods. "He's not a detached administrator. ... I would hope the next president would bring that, too."
But Murphy also said he'd like a president who would bolster the university's national reputation and add diversity by recruiting more students from outside Kentucky.
It would be a plus for Shearer's successor to know Transylvania's 229-year history as the first college established in what was then the western frontier, Murphy said.
"It's not necessary for that person to have some direct connection to the college, but to at least be aware of where we came from," he said. "Transy began, as James Madison called it, as 'a light in the forest.'"
Grant Buckles, a junior from Leitchfield who will serve on the search committee, said students want someone proficient in university finances, as well as someone who will help the campus connect with the surrounding community.
Like most colleges and universities, Transylvania has begun a push toward sustainability — trying to reduce its use of resources for economic and environmental reasons.
Lauralee Crain, a senior from Flemingsburg and an environmental activist, said she hopes that will be reflected.
"I would like to see questions about energy, waste reduction and community building being asked of the new presidential candidates," she said.
All of this has set the campus and its 1,092 students, as well as professors and staff, abuzz with what Brown calls interest and "mixed emotions."
"There's a lot of gratitude for Dr. Shearer and a lot of excitement about a new beginning," she said. "Of course there is some anxiety, too."
Reach Ryan Alessi at (859) 231-1303.