Apostolos P. Georgopoulos: Next U president needn't be an outsider

  • Updated: July 10, 2010 - 6:26 PM
The search for a new president of the University of Minnesota is on.

Following a meeting of the Board of Regents in May, the Star Tribune reported that Bill Funk of R. William Funk & Associates, the consulting firm leading the search, said: "I would like to have the opportunity to recruit sitting presidents." Recruiting a president from elsewhere is apparently the goal of the firm. I trust it is not the goal of the search committee.

The committee's goal should be to get the best possible person for the job. A person with proven leadership, who has mastery of the unique complexity of this university, who is an effective communicator within and outside the university, who is a champion of academic values and a successful fundraiser, and who is fair and accessible to everyone.

Is getting a sitting president the gold standard to strive for? Not necessarily. Recent presidential appointments at major universities (Duke, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin-Madison and Purdue) were not sitting presidents. And of all appointments during the past 40 years at several top-notch academic institutions (Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford and the University of Chicago), none was a sitting president. The success of a president does not depend on a previous presidency.

As reported recently in the Harvard Business Review, "CEOs who were promoted from inside the company tended to have stronger performance than those brought in from the outside." There is plenty of talent here that could and should be tapped before the search committee is lured astray by preconceived notions about sitting presidents or glamorous outsiders. The likelihood is indeed high that the best person for the job already exists within the university. Current university officials are of the highest quality and are most familiar with the unique complexity of our university and the challenges we face. With a leader from inside the university, we would hit the ground running, rally behind the new president and stay the course to propel the university to the top.


The writer is a professor of neuroscience at the University of Minnesota.

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