The presidential search is ready to begin, but not without substantial participation from the Virginia Tech community.
The search committee for Tech’s next president assembled at 8:30 a.m. on a cloudy Thursday morning, settled in an immaculate conference room at the Inn. As one of the first input meetings in the presidential search, the four-hour session had a variety of purposes, all with the intention of preparing the group for a full launch into the search over the next few months.
The search committee, who is charged with pinpointing three presidential candidates and submitting them to the Board of Visitors (BOV) for a final decision, is an eclectic mosaic of 22 faculty, students, staff, alumni and BOV members.
After the compulsory opening motions were completed, the committee reviewed the results of a preliminary survey, conducted across the past several weeks, that compiled the input of students, faculty, alumni and various other participants involved with Tech. The survey, coordinated by three graduate students that have been selected to assist in the search, had received roughly 650 submissions.
However, the preliminary survey only provided a limited level of insight, leaving some members of the committee to dismiss its results as being somewhat inconsequential. It was noted, however, that a more thorough survey is being released to a wider audience, and its results should be more telling.
Currently, the survey is lacking faculty input— made up of 38 percent students and only nine percent faculty. Committee members addressed this issue, and looked for ways to get faculty and staff involved in the process.
Afterwards, the committee conducted a roundtable discussion of their belief in the attributes and skill sets required by the next president, though it initially digressed into comments on potential faults in the current search process. Some were worried that the process being considered a “closed search” may be misinterpreted.
“We’re closed in the process, but that doesn’t mean we’re closed in the input,” said committee member Stephanie Adams.
Many agreed, and committee member Ben Davenport concluded, “(We) need to communicate that its not a closed process… in that we take input.” He suggested that the committee remedy the situation by working with the deans of each college in collaboration.
The separation was made between what they considered a closed search and what was simply a confidential search. Mirah Horowitz, of the search and assessment company Russell Reynolds Associates, reminded the committee that the search must remain confidential so as to not put any applicants at risk of losing their current position in other universities.
The committee discussed which attributes would be required of the next president to help accelerate the universities standing as an institution, while keeping it an affordable and valued experience for generations of students to come. Emphasis was placed on the university’s role as a land grant university, as well as the importance of continuing research and innovation in years to come.
“It’s difficult to put it into one attribute, clearly they are looking for a visionary leader—a strategic thinker, who is a great communicator and a good professional manager at the same time,” said George Nolen, chair of the search committee, after the meeting.
Committee members were also quick to point out that a stigma has been placed on Tech’s administration regarding its ability to enact change in policy. Some agreed that Tech can at times become too bogged down in its own bureaucracy and processes, and that a new president would need to overcome this limitation.
Additionally, there was a lot of talk about the positive aspects of Blacksburg and the sense of community the town can cultivated. This was seen as a strong suit that needed to be communicated to applicants, in order to attract strong candidates to a job that has serious longevity attached to it.
“I learned a lot more today about how we really have a great sense of community here at Virginia Tech and its going to be a great asset for us to share with the potential leaders that come in to apply,” Nolen said, after the meeting.