The University of Kentucky Board of Trustees was told Sunday by its presidential search consultants that there's one particular consideration driving many searches these days: the privacy of the candidates.
Consultant Jan Greenwood said candidates who admit their interest in another job risk losing the confidence of their state legislatures, donors and, in extreme cases, even their jobs.
Having a search in which candidates are not promised confidentiality might affect its integrity, said Greenwood of Greenwood/Asher, the Florida firm hired by UK to guide the school through its search for a replacement for Lee T. Todd Jr. For sure, she said, it will affect the makeup of the candidate pool, as younger, less-experienced candidates gravitate to more public searches.
She cited a search for the president of the University of Minnesota, in which a sole candidate was named Friday. Four names were forwarded to the board of regents there, but two dropped out because they did not want to be part of a publicly identified pool.
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During a retreat at Spindletop, the trustees were told one search scenario might involve narrowing the field to a group of three to five candidates who would then be interviewed privately or off-site to avoid community speculation and media scrutiny. That process would yield a final preferred candidate who would then be presented.
Greenwood said matching the candidate with the needs of the university is the most important criterion; the interview itself, she said, can be misleading.
"The interview is the least reliable indicator of an effective leader," she said.
Trustee chairman Britt Brockman said the trustees have not determined what procedure the board will use when interviewing candidates for Todd's successor. The scenario explained by Greenwood is simply one possibility, he said.
And Greenwood herself told the group "only you as a board can decide what your appetite for risk is."
Greenwood also told the trustees the president's salary at UK is unrealistically low and urged them to consider increasing it. She said such an increase would not play well with those affected by a dire economy, but university executives' salaries tend to fall within certain boundaries, with UK low on the pole.
At a September trustees meeting, Todd was voted a 51.7 percent increase in his base salary. At that time, he received a base salary of $304,000, plus a supplement of $50,000 for serving on academic and research boards. The raise of $157,046 brought his salary to $511,046.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in February the median salary for university presidents is $436,111. The highest-paid president, E. Gordon Gee at Ohio State University, earns more than $1.5 million.
Trustees were urged by UK general counsel Barbara Jones to maintain confidentiality during the search process and to refer questions about the search to UK's presidential search Web site, Uky.edu/presidentialsearch.
Asked after the meeting how presenting a single candidate to a university community works to ensure buy-in to that person's vision for the university, Greenwood said it's up to the candidate to work to engage a number of university constituencies after being named.
The UK trustees also narrowed down to five the qualities they consider essential for the next UK president:
■ Political astuteness.
■ Proven management skills.
■ Strong communication skills.
■ Creative, innovative leadership.
■ Ability to be a strategic visionary.
Regarding political astuteness, trustees said they wanted the UK president to be unquestionably one of the top leaders in the state. Trustee Sheila Brothers said the top candidate "may not need to be from Kentucky, but they had better have an understanding of how things work here."
The trustees also said they wanted to hire a president who can integrate the powerful athletics program and booming medical affairs unit into the academic fabric of the college, minimizing the "silo" mentality in which some areas feel they do not share in the good fortune or robust finances of others.
Trustee Joe Peek said the new president should "be enough of a CEO" to recognize the need to assemble a talented team of employees to lead specific areas of the university.
Led in discussion about candidate priorities by education consultant Bill Shelton, the trustees agreed they want to encourage application by candidates inside and outside higher education, do not want to limit applications to sitting presidents at universities and do not want to exclude candidates who are not now nationally prominent.