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IHL begins search for three presidents

Board, constituents face tough logistics with ASU, JSU, MUW

The search firms to find new presidents at Alcorn State University, Jackson State University (JSU) and Mississippi University for Women (MUW) have been selected, but the logistics of the process are going to be a challenge.

There is also the matter of cost.

Leah Rupp Smith, State Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) spokesperson, said she is not sure if the state has ever faced the task of finding three university presidents at one time. But, she said Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Hank Bounds has called it “unprecedented.”

On July 12, the Board of Trustees of the IHL, after affirmation from the ad hoc search committee, chose Ayers & Associates Inc. of Arlington, Va., to search for new presidents at both Alcorn and JSU. (In June, the IHL board elected to choose one firm to find the presidents at the two institutions.) In choosing Ayers, the board pointed to the firm’s extensive experience with searches at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which includes finding a new dean at Mississippi Valley State University and president of Tougaloo College.

Dr. George Ayers, president of Ayers & Associates who will serve as the principal in the searches, said while both Alcorn and JSU are HBCUs, they are quite different — Alcorn is a land-grant institution while JSU is an urban research university. But, he said his firm is conducting three searches, two of which were expected to be completed soon, and that he and his team could start work immediately. He estimated the searches could take up to six months.

Ayers & Associates beat out Washington, D.C.-based Academic Search Inc. for the Alcorn/JSU project. Academic Search’s bid was hurt by its lack of HBCU search experience — senior consultant Maya Ranchod Kirkhope admitted that Academic Search had found the HBCU market “tough to break into.”

However, another Academic Search senior consultant, Dr. Frank Pogue Jr., made an announcement at the July 12 meeting that sealed his firm’s fate — he had just been named the new president of Grambling State University.

Bounds said he had no idea that Pogue, who was not present at the meeting but participated via teleconference, had been named Grambling’s president until the July 12 meeting. He and many board members worried that Pogue, who was to serve as his team’s point man, would not have the time to devote to the searches. Board member Bob Owen added that he saw Pogue’s appointment as “somewhat a conflict of interest.”

The board voted unanimously to choose Ayers.

Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search won the job of finding a permanent replacement for Dr. Claudia Limbert at MUW. Parker is a well-known commodity among the board — it recently recruited Bounds as commissioner of higher education, Dr. Dan Jones as the new chancellor at the University of Mississippi as well as Scott Stricklin as the athletic director at Mississippi State.

Parker, which won the contract over Oak Brook, Ill.-based Witt/Kieffer, was also conducting a search for the new provost at MUW when Limbert announced her retirement. That familiarity with the institution boosted Parker’s bid.

Parker’s senior vice president and managing director Laurie Wilder said wooing presidents in this economy is a challenge. Recent issues at MUW — proposed merger with Mississippi State and name change and Limbert’s rift with some alumni — would make the job even tougher. Wilder said the key would be finding a candidate that will see those issues as opportunities to leave his or her stamp on MUW.

“We will market their potential impact on MUW — that they can make a difference there,” Wilder said.

Wilder promised Parker, which also received unanimous board approval, would be flexible as to when the search is to begin. The firm estimated the search would take four months to complete.

Timing is one of the main concerns for Bounds. With three concurrent searches involving a number of constituent groups and 12 board members, Bounds said it would be best to stagger the searches.

He has decided to conduct the JSU search first. His reasoning is that JSU is larger than the other two institutions combined. Factoring in that JSU is a research institution, he said he expects that search to be the most complex and lengthy and, thus, needs to get underway as soon as possible.

There is one last hurdle before the state can sign contracts with Ayers and Parker — cost. The board voted to have Bounds negotiate the final contract terms. In its proposal, Ayers set its fee at $154,275 if asked to find presidents at two of the universities. Parker set its one-school search fee at $75,000.

Bounds said July 12 that he hoped to have the contracts finalized that week. At press time, negotiations were still ongoing.

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