CHAPEL HILL Wanted: A skilled manager and visionary leader with political savvy, fundraising ability and a willingness to serve students, parents, professors, lawmakers, alumni and state taxpayers.
One more requirement: the candidate must wrangle with the pressures of intercollegiate athletics and revive the reputation of a public university wracked by two years of sports-related scandals.
The intimidating job description is for the next chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
On Monday, a 21-member search committee will begin the task of finding a successor to Holden Thorp, who will step down in June after five years in the position. The group will interview search consultants and hear instructions from UNC system President Tom Ross for a process that is expected to end with the naming of a chancellor sometime in the spring.
At the same time, the university remains under a cloud. Several investigations continue into misconduct and academic fraud related to the universitys sports programs, and an audit is under way to learn the full extent of improper travel expenditures by top fundraisers.
Interviews with chancellor candidates are months away, but one thing is clear: the role of athletics will be a central issue for the next chancellor.
It is also likely to be a topic in the search deliberations. The committee includes trustees, alumni, students, professors and staff. Its members have wide ranging backgrounds in business, law, nonprofits, science and the humanities.
Notably, several are rooted in the world of athletics, including alumni Eric Montross, former UNC basketball star and sports commentator, and Dwight Stone, board chairman of Educational Foundation, better known as the Rams Club booster club. Additionally, two professors on the panel have expertise in athletics.
Wade Hargrove, chairman of the Board of Trustees, will lead the committee. He said the athletic community is one important constituency of UNC-CH that certainly has a right to be heard to offer its advice in the selection process.
Thorp: Different aim in 2007
Its a constituency that was largely absent in the search process that chose Thorp, who spent most of his career at UNC-CH as a chemistry professor and had been a department head and dean.
In a recent session with News & Observer editors and reporters, Thorp said there was little discussion of athletics during his talks with the 2007-08 search committee. At the time, he said, there was a lot of concern about campus safety, in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings and the murder of Eve Carson, the student body president at UNC-CH.
There werent a lot of questions about athletics in my interview, because Carolina had been doing so well and not having problems and our teams were performing, said Thorp, who has pledged to spend his remaining months as chancellor implementing new policies and reforms meant to fix problems with athletics.
My goal is that the next chancellor doesnt have to deal with these problems, he added.
The main scope of the search will be on forces that are reshaping higher education at a crucial time, Hargrove said.
Public institutions such as Chapel Hill are suffering, Hargrove said, citing a list of concerns. The economic model is probably not sustainable, the debate about what should universities be teaching, who should attend, what should admission requirements be, what is the core mission, the debate about the mix between vocational training and traditional liberal arts education and critical analytical skills ... It is a very important time and I think it calls for extraordinary leadership qualities to successfully address those challenges, not only at Chapel Hill but at every institution of higher education.
Part of running a complex university is trying to balance academic integrity along with a big-money athletic enterprise that often leads to compromises.
Jan Boxill, chairwoman of the faculty and senior lecturer in philosophy, is a member of the committee who has written widely on sports ethics and has been a public address announcer for UNC womens basketball and field hockey games.
Boxill said shes comfortable with voices of athletics in the group. At an NCAA Division I university, it makes sense to raise questions about athletics with candidates pursuing the top job, she said, and those with expertise in athletics are in a position to do that.
Having it up front isnt a bad thing, she said.
Turnover at the top
Experts say the scandals in Chapel Hill are just one challenge ahead for the next leader of a university with 29,000 students and 3,000 faculty. Besides the dominating influence of athletics, public universities face financial and political pressure and a trend of corporatization.
Public universities have recently seen greater turnover at the top, similar to the 1960s, when student protesters collided with state political leaders, while university administrators were caught in the middle, said Art Padilla, professor in the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona.
Thirteen of 35 highly ranked public universities have lost their presidents in the past 18 months, according to the Association of American Universities. Thorp will have served five years; his predecessor, James Moeser, served eight.
I think were going through a transformation that we havent seen, said Padilla, the author of several books about leadership and college presidencies. The jobs are getting harder, salaries are getting much higher and expectations associated with those high salaries are for superstar achievement, which of course theyre not going to achieve in a short period.
Still a plum job at a top school
Still, even with the athletics trouble, Padilla believes UNC-CHs academic reputation and research prowess will draw well-qualified people.
I think theyll get pretty good candidates, he said. My guess is, given that they feel a little bit burned, theyre going to after a very conservative candidate this time, a very safe candidate hiring somebody older, somebody whos been president.
Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, was on UNC-CHs campus recently to talk about the value of public research universities.
He said the athletics issues wont turn good candidates off. Its not always terrible to come into a place thats been having some troubles, he said. The hardest thing, in my view, is replacing someone whos been the institution, the icon, for the last 20 years.
Rawlings is a former president of the University of Iowa and Cornell University. Thorp has invited him to lead a conversation in the spring about the proper balance of academics and athletics.
The candidates vying for Thorps job will surely be listening.
Rawlings, a classics scholar, said the ideal candidate could come from any background. He or she could be a scientist, humanist or a public figure who isnt from academia.
In offering advice to UNC-CHs search committee, he said this: Pick the person who really does have your values and understand your values, because thats the most important thing in the end.
Staff writer J. Andrew Curliss contributed.
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