As members of Stanford's presidential search committee fanned out across the country in search of nominees, they found unusually intense interest in who will become Stanford's 10th president.
More than 400 names were submitted by the Jan. 14 formal nomination deadline, yielding "an impressive nucleus of high-quality prospects who span a multitude of academic disciplines," said Trustee James R. Ukropina, who chairs the search committee. "The nominees include a broad spectrum of people from around the country and the world." The original 400 now has been narrowed down to about 40 names, he said.
John Etchemendy, professor of philosophy and deputy chair of the search committee, said that "one thing that we are discovering in our conversations with people is that this may well be the most important appointment in higher education, given Stanford's position in the country and the world, and its location in Silicon Valley, where so much that will affect higher education is happening."
Noting that colleges and universities are under attack in the United States "at least in some circles," Ukropina added that "there is great hope that this next president will be an articulate and effective spokesperson for higher education."
In a recent interview, Ukropina and Etchemendy discussed the progress of the committee to date.
With a goal of recommending several names to the full Board of Trustees by the end of Spring Quarter, the 17-member panel, which was appointed in November, plunged quickly into the work of soliciting nominations and advice.
In developing its plans, the group consulted extensively with university officials, trustees and others who were involved in previous presidential searches, Ukropina said.
The committee has developed a list of 40 attributes they consider key for a new president, he said, but the preliminary focus centers on four essentials:
- manifested academic excellence and intellectual capacity;
- demonstrated leadership ability;
- outstanding management ability; and
- a range of personal attributes, including unimpeachable integrity, the ability to motivate people and the potential to be a strong fundraiser.
On campus, the committee has held a series of meetings with faculty, staff and students that have been "a remarkable education for all of us," Etchemendy said.
The committee has met with all the deans, with representatives of the Faculty Senate and with more than 30 academic leaders, including a large group of staff from Student Affairs.
Those with whom they have spoken have brought "a remarkable amount of thoroughness of preparation to the process of raising what they believe are critical considerations," Ukropina said. "Everyone brought a new and valuable perspective everyone."
Etchemendy said the committee had a valuable forum with students. Though attendance was not high, he said, "there was very good representation" and discussion of numerous issues.
Beyond campus, teams of committee members have been traveling throughout the country, typically in groups of four, to meet with academic leaders, foundation heads and others to solicit candidates and "to talk about how they view our opportunity," Ukropina said.
The search committee also has advertised the position in major publications, as well as in some that are less well known.
"We're actively looking in nontraditional places to make sure that we're finding the women and minority potential prospects that we should be looking at," Ukropina said.
The committee now is developing extensive files on the top 40 candidates identified so far. After further review and a series of interviews, the search panel will present a list of nominees to the full board. Traditionally, such committees propose three to five names, but Stanford has set no fixed number, Etchemendy said.
Ukropina emphasized that the review of candidates will be done "appropriately, thoroughly and methodically," with the assistance of a five-person staff. The work will involve thousands of hours for staff and committee members, he noted.
Despite the challenges inherent in the presidential position, Etchemendy said, the committee expects strong interest from highly qualified candidates. "For that relatively small class of people who are interested and able to be president of a major university," he said, "this has to be the most attractive position around. And, I might add, in a relative sense, far more attractive than it was eight years ago," when Gerhard Casper took over in the wake of the 1989 earthquake and the indirect cost controversy.