Hunt for Nordenberg’s successor resembles 1995 search

By Danielle Fox / Staff Writer

Christine Dockey knew it was an honor when she was invited to sit in on a candidate’s interview with the Chancellor Search Committee as a student representative in 1994.

She had no idea that the candidate, Mark Nordenberg, would be appointed the chancellor of the University in 1995 and go on to lead Pitt for the next 18 years.

“[Nordenberg] was on the spot, and all the questions were at him. He was answering smoothly, and I thought he knew the University well,” said Dockey, who graduated in 1994. “He did a nice job, and I guess the true result of everything he said in that interview is what he made come true in the past 18 years.”

In June, Nordenberg announced that he will step down from his position to a spot on the University’s Board of Trustees. He will officially retire at the beginning of summer 2014, which gives the Board of Trustees about seven months to find his replacement.

Stephen Tritch, chairman of the Board, said in a statement issued in August: “The single most important task that the Board has undertaken since the election of Chancellor Nordenberg is the selection of his successor.”

In August, the University also announced the hire of Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in senior-level searches for colleges and universities.

In September, the University announced the 26-member search committee roster and the schedule of 14 search forums located everywhere from Pitt’s main campus to Houston, Texas. The open forums are designed to obtain feedback from students, alumni and faculty.

Although the University has expanded since Dockey was a student, the new-millennial chancellor search has not changed much from the ’90s one.

The previous search included open forums, a search committee with more than 20 members and an executive search firm that assisted in attracting candidates to the University.

Ken Service, Pitt’s vice chancellor of communications, did not know how many candidates were interviewed in the 1995 chancellor search.

Richard Colwell served on the 1995 Chancellor Search Committee and is also a member of the current committee. Colwell declined to comment on the 1995 search and said that after 18 years, all the information from the previous search is still confidential.

But there is at least one takeaway: The number of universities and colleges employing search firms, and the type of candidate who eventually gets the job, indicates that the present search will be more competitive than the 1995 search.

According to a 2012 study from the American Council on Education, search consultants assisted in 80 percent of university searches for senior-level leaders conducted between 2006 and 2011. Only 12 percent of universities worked alongside a consultant in their searches between the late 1960s and the early 1980s. This data shows an increase of more than 600 percent.

According to Tritch, there are currently 13 other major universities, including members of the Association of American Universities such as Michigan State University and Ohio State, that have employed consulting firms to find candidates to become the universities’ presidents.

“It’s not just the number of other schools, it’s the fact that we want to find a person who is capable of building on the momentum the University has seen throughout the past years,” Service said.

Michigan State University has also employed the help of Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates for its search. Andrea Warren Hamos, vice president for consulting operations at Academic Search Inc. in Washington, D.C., said this partnership would most likely not result in a major conflict for Pitt further down the line.

“It isn’t impossible that a candidate can be in more than one search that a firm is running, but the search processes are going to be different, and how the candidate will fare in the tough processes is going to be different,” Hamos said. “But, yes, sometimes institutions make offers to the same candidates, and then, it’s a question of negotiation.”

Search consultants help universities assess what they are looking for in a potential chancellor or president and connect possible candidates to universities.

“The role of the search firm is not to choose the next leader,” Hamos said. “It’s to support and inform the process with the university as it selects the candidate.”

“It’s a combination of open public recruitment through advertisement and through tapping our networks and reaching out to people who could either be interested in a position like this or might know and want to nominate a person who they think might be a good next chancellor for Pitt,” Hamos said.

Part of the search committee’s job was to devise a profile of the University that included a job description for the chancellor position. The 19-page document was released Oct. 1 and lists necessary qualifications in a candidate.

“The next chancellor will have a proven record of administrative leadership in a complex environment,” according to the profile. It also says applicants should have terminal degrees, the highest degree that can be granted in a field of specialization.

The report instructs candidates to submit materials by Nov. 15. The document does not specify whether the University is looking to attract a candidate who comes from academia or who is currently a part of the University of Pittsburgh community.

David Bartholomae, a search committee member and Charles Crow chair of the English Department, brought up the possibility at the second chancellor search forum that the next chancellor might not have a background in academia.

Bartholomae wanted to know what audience members thought of the idea of a candidate who comes from an executive position at a business organization instead of having served at a university.

This question was met with slight apprehension from the audience, and it touches upon a growing trend in the selection of higher-education-instution presidents.

According to a study published by the American Council on Education in 2012, the number of college presidents whose immediate prior position was outside of academia increased from 13 percent in 2006 to 20 percent in 2011.

For instance, Janet Napolitano served as the secretary of U.S. Homeland Security and was a former governor of Arizona before she became the president of the University of California last July.

“A candidate who comes from the business sector would need to respect the expectations of the people surrounding him or her that work in higher education,” Hamos said. “It’s also very much a question of their leadership qualities and their ability and interest to understand the industry that they are working for.”

Hamos added that the “skills and work ethic of a candidate” are what qualify him or her for the position.

“It is clear that a lot of the skills that people bring from the leadership from business, the military and other sectors are increasingly in need in higher education, but that doesn’t mean that they need to look for people from any one sector,” Hamos said.

Although the actions of the search committee have been largely transparent so far, Service said further action after the forums and response to the profile must remain confidential.

“The more confidential [the search committee] will remain, the better chance they have to recruit a top-ranked candidate,” Service said. “It is really important in terms of getting the best quality of candidates, because they look for confidentially. Some of them may be employed by other places.”

Neither Service nor a representative from Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates could comment on how much the search process will cost the University.

However, current clients of Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, including the University of Wisconsin, the University of Nevada and Kent State University, have made their agreements with the firm public. Kent State University also publicized a full list of how much each fee of its search process will cost.

The universities were required to pay a service fee to the search firm that was based on one-third of the total first year’s cash compensation for the candidate, with a minimum of $60,000. Total first year’s cash compensation includes base salary, bonuses and other cash perks.

This charge amounted to $104,000 for Kent State.

The schools were also required to pay an “engagement support expense” fee to cover expenses such as communication costs, research and report production. These are usually 15 percent of the service fee.

Kent State’s engagement support fee amounted to $21,000.

These fees are in addition to direct expenses that include consultant and candidate travel costs, advertising, background checks and express mail.

Although the search committee and firm look nationally for the best candidates, the University’s next chancellor may already be a member of Pitt faculty.

The American Council on Education reported that 34 percent of presidents who responded to the survey had previously occupied positions at universities and colleges as provosts or chief academic officers.

Nordenberg was a professor at the University before he became the dean of the School of Law and later became interim provost of the University.

Although some of those who attended the forums on campus joked that they wish they could convince Nordenberg to stay on or be cloned so that the University could enjoy another 18 years under his guidance, the University has put praise and jokes aside and is moving forward with the next part of Pitt’s history.

“We all knew that this day eventually would come,” Tritch said in a statement. ”Now, we must do our very best to identify and recruit the best possible successor.”