Carol Biliczky

Are you a visionary? A born leader? Creative? Dynamic? A strategic thinker and adept administrator? An effective communicator?

If so, throw your hat in the ring: Three major universities in Ohio might be looking for you.

Over the next few months, the University of Akron, Kent State and Ohio State will compete with dozens of colleges and universities nationwide in search of new leaders.

Its a brisk market, with Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue, Tulane, Georgia and many others also in search of new presidents.

This is the graying of the American presidency, said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the nonprofit American Council on Education. We expect a huge turnover in the course of the decade.

OSU and UA are replacing Gordon Gee, 69, and Luis Proenza, 68, respectively, both of whom will return to teaching. KSUs Lester Lefton, 67, is retiring.

All three are above the median age of the American college president, which at 61 is up from 48 years old a quarter century ago, Broad said.

The problem has been compounded because many presidents delayed their departures during the recession, Broad said. Now that theres a break in the clouds, many are making the move at the same time.

Searches take time

For the colleges they leave behind, finding a replacement isnt necessarily easy.

There are many more presidential jobs than there are presidential candidates, said Ron Berkman, who left Florida International University in 2009 to become head of Cleveland State.

UA aims to name a candidate by the end of the year.

While that may not be possible because there are so many variables, we want to move with dispatch and to identify Dr. Proenzas successor long before the June 30 completion of his presidency, UA trustee Chairman Dick Pogue said.

Broad, from the education council, said the average search can take 300 days.

Many universities hire search firms to help them plow through resumes, vet candidates and approach prospects who might not be looking for a new job.

Ohio State already has taken that step, hiring R. William Funk and Associates of Dallas for a flat fee of $200,000 and at least $20,000 in expenses. Kent State has agreed to pay Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates of Media, Pa., $161,000 plus expenses.

Search firms help trustees refine what theyre looking for, said Mitchel Livingston, emeritus vice president of student affairs and services at the University of Cincinnati. He has been involved in three presidential searches and has worked for 16 presidents over the course of his career.

Search firms can keep you focused because youre looking for a very select person, Livingston said. His advice: Get help.

Searchers should target candidates with terminal such as doctoral or law degrees because universities are communities of scholars with the president being the first among equals, he said.

In the past, provosts aspired to the presidency, but that isnt the case as much anymore, Broad said.

Only about one-third of provosts say they want to be president today, down from perhaps double that a decade ago, she said.

They dont want to have to live in a fishbowl, not have time to spend with students and faculty, to have to fund-raise, the time demands, Broad said.

Wide-ranging skills

No matter what the background of the new presidents, though, they will need soft skills of persuasion and communication, CSUs Berkman said.

You need a motivator, he said. Its not enough to have a strong research record or a strong academic and research record.

While he knew the Cleveland State job would be 24/7, he didnt fully appreciate that until he actually began the job.

Theres a gigantic civic agenda, lots of connectivity with the city, Berkman said. Youre worried about campus life, safety, flood, famine, locusts, he said with a laugh.

Livingston said new presidents will need to meet wide-ranging challenges: affordability, financial management, maintaining public confidence, building a sense of community with a diverse audience and managing enrollments.

Colleges and universities have high expectations.

The next president will lead Kent States continuing ascension and inspire a culture of high aspirations, the KSU search committee, led by trustee Richard Marsh, said in its Chronicle of Higher Education advertisement.

The rewards will be great for successful candidates: homes provided by the universities or a housing allowance, cars, country club memberships, current salaries of $450,000 and up at KSU and UA and double that at OSU, plus generous incentives that can reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At the same time, the average presidency is lasting only four or five years, Livingston said.

Things are changing, and changing rapidly, he said. The president a college needs today might not work tomorrow, he said.

If the new president doesnt work out, search firms often will conduct a second search within a year for free.

Carol Biliczky can be reached at cbiliczky@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3729.