A group created to help search for the University of Minnesota’s next president is fanning out across the state to hear what students, employees, alumni and others want to see in that new leader.
Last Friday, the U’s governing board unanimously approved a 23-member committee made up of faculty, staff, students and others to help find a replacement for President Eric Kaler, who is stepping down next July. Days later, the committee’s members kicked off seven days of public forums across the system’s five campuses — feedback the committee will distill into a profile of a dream president for the state’s largest public university.
“This is the most inclusive search that has ever happened at the University of Minnesota,” said Abdul Omari, a university regent who chairs the search committee.
Student leaders at the university, however, have voiced disappointment that only two students — both representing the U’s flagship Twin Cities campus — made it onto the committee. Some said this week that forums geared toward students and other outreach have helped, but they do not entirely make up for the lack of a more robust student representation on the search group.
“We’re disappointed, but we are working with the two students on the committee to make sure our concerns are channeled through them,” said Simran Mishra, the Twin Cities student body president.
After Kaler announced earlier this summer he would step down a year before his contract expires, the U hired the consulting firm Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates on a roughly $200,000 contract to help with the presidential search. Both the firm and the search committee will recruit and vet candidates, but the committee will make the final call on three or four leading contenders to recommend to the Board of Regents.
About 150 people in total attended separate sessions for students, faculty, staff and community members in Crookston and Morris earlier this week. Attendance was sparser at Wednesday sessions on the St. Paul and West Bank campuses, where at most forums about a dozen members of the search committee outnumbered the attendees.
Faculty and some students spoke about wanting to see a leader with experience working at a university rather than a business executive without academic bona fides.
“There is a problem with understanding how a university works; it’s not like a typical business,” Al Beitz, a veterinary medicine professor and head of the U’s Center for Educational Innovation, told the committee members.
Yet faculty said the university needs someone with finance savvy, who would push back on political pressure and help the U play catch-up in online coursework.
Students said the president should be approachable and tuned in to student concerns.
“There needs to be an investment in students, in their lives and in their health,” said Jasmine Curtis, a freshman in animal science.
Students also said they want an administrator who can raise the U’s national profile at a time of sharply rising out-of-state tuition and someone who values transparency in making decisions. Julia Brokaw, a Ph.D. in entomology, said the university does not have a track record of factoring in student voices.
“I don’t really trust this process, to be honest, but I am here to give you my input just in case,” she said.
Marta Dean, a Crookston student who chairs a group of student representatives to the Board of Regents, said Monday’s listening session with students on her campus was lively and engaging. But she still worries the concerns of students — particularly those in greater Minnesota — will not get sufficient airing during the search process.
“We believe that impression should be one that lets the candidates, and the U community, know that we value students, and we value our entire university system,” Dean said.
Although an alum of the Crookston campus serves on the committee, no current students or employees are represented.
But Omari, who is attending every forum on the U’s five campuses, said committee members would not be traveling the state if they did not take the input seriously.
Committee members will host listening sessions on the Duluth campus Thursday, on the Twin Cities’ East Bank campus Monday and in Rochester Wednesday.
A complete schedule is on a presidential search website (https://tinyurl.com/y85qawz8), where you can also submit input.