KENT — Kent State University’s board of trustees on Wednesday officially established the national search for the university’s 13th president, naming both the search committee chair and the firm that will assist in the search.
Board vice chair Shawn Riley, president of Cleveland law firm McDonald Hopkins and a 1983 Kent State graduate, was named as chair of the presidential search committee that will help select President Beverly Warren's successor. Warren is leaving the post in July.
"I am honored by the request to do this, slightly intimidated by the task, trying to find somebody who can fill such incredibly large shoes,” Riley said during Wednesday’s board meeting.
“Not so large,” joked Warren, who began her presidency in July 2014 and announced her decision to step down in October.
The board selected New York-based executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates, one of 15 bids the board considered after issuing a formal request for proposals in October, to assist in the process. Kent State spokesman Eric Mansfield called the firm “very experienced” and said they’ve assisted with other presidential searches on the East Coast, including at the University of Miami.
Board chair Ralph Della Ratta said the search for the next president will be a “comprehensive national search” with an "inclusive, diverse search committee.”
"As a board, we are deeply committed to pursuing a search that yields the very best outcome, and we want to make sure that we have an accomplished, visionary, inspirational president to lead Kent State University to its brightest future," Della Ratta said.
The university is also launching a presidential search website that will include an online survey for the public to share input on what they want to see in the next president.
Riley said the board expects to announce search committee members early next week. The committee is expected to include trustees, faculty, administration, students, alumni and community members.
Mansfield said the search committee in 2013 included 17 members. He said he expects this search committee to have roughly the same number.
The chair of the KSU Faculty Senate, Pamela Grimm, has previously said because of her position, she will serve on the committee. She pressed for an open, transparent search in comments at the Faculty Senate meeting last month.
“The last two searches generated so much animosity among faculty and students and so much negative press,” Grimm said, adding that the searches “really violated the spirit of the [state] Sunshine Law” on open records.
Kent State University presidential search by emills11 on Scribd
Kent State University’s last two searches for a president were closed, leading to criticism from public records advocates, as well as some faculty members, students and news media professionals.
Both times, names of finalists were not released. And each time, the search committee brought the successful candidate to campus as a done deal, rather than inviting three or four finalists to appear at forums, as many public schools do.
Critics have said taxpayer-supported universities should reveal names of finalists rather than keeping the public in the dark.
In 2014, the Beacon Journal made repeated requests for an accounting of Kent State's search for a new president. However, the university signed an addendum to the search firm’s contract that gave the firm control over all records — including those that the newspaper argued should be public, such as travel receipts. Some notes and documents were destroyed, two faculty members who served on the search committee said in a 2014 Beacon Journal article.
Della Ratta and Riley were not made available to the media for comment after Wednesday’s meeting.
Mansfield said the university will “adhere to all the applicable laws and policies" on public records. When asked about concerns from the public about the transparency of past presidential searches, including not knowing who the finalists would be, Mansfield said the search committee will determine how the search is conducted.
“We're certainly aware of the feedback, but we're also aware of the praise that we have for the president who was selected, and that's the fiduciary responsibility that the board has,” Mansfield said. “Once the search committee meets, they will establish the parameters going forward.”
Mansfield said he wasn’t sure if search committee members would be asked to sign confidentiality agreements, as members did in the last presidential search, but he said “it's very common for them to do this in trying to bring in the best group of candidates.”
Della Ratta thanked Warren for her service during Wednesday’s meeting, the first since she announced she’d be stepping down.
He highlighted the development of the university’s strategic roadmap and the $1 billion, 10-year Gateway Master Plan during Warren’s tenure.
Warren, who came to KSU from Virginia Commonwealth University, told board members that attracting and retaining talent, developing 21st-century learning environments and putting students first — something students overwhelmingly requested in the 2013 presidential search after Lester Lefton, who was hired in 2006, announced he would be stepping down — were highlights of her presidency.
"It has truly been the opportunity of a lifetime to serve Kent State, and it's been one of the most difficult decisions I've ever had to make,” she said of her decision to step down.
Beacon Journal reporter Katie Byard contributed to this report. Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, firstname.lastname@example.org and @EmilyMills818.