The problem with finding a new president for the University of Washington is that the people the UW might want probably won’t be interested in the job - at least, not at first.
“No question, the people we want are not now looking for jobs,” said Paul Skinner, a UW regent and chairman of the presidential search committee.
“We have to sell them on the fact that the UW is a great place to be,” Skinner said.
The yearlong search for a replacement for UW President William Gerberding, who will retire Aug. 31, has faced a number of obstacles.
For one thing, competition for top-flight administrators is intense among major universities and private foundations.
The sheer size of the school - a $1.5 billion-a-year institution with 16,000 employees and 34,000 students - can be intimidating.
And public universities like the UW tend to pay less than top private institutions, while subjecting their presidents to greater public and political scrutiny.
The first round in the search process fizzled earlier this year, leading the regents in March to hire a new consultant and begin anew. The search committee now is seriously considering 15 to 18 candidates, Skinner said.
The best candidates will be hardest to attract, since they are probably already in good positions and highly regarded, said Peter Magrath, president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges in Washington, D.C.
“That person is probably not going to apply in the technical sense but is someone who has got to be attracted because he or she already has a good job,” he said. “It’s a courtship - a mating dance.”
To that end, consultant John Phillips of A.T. Kearney, an executive search firm in Alexandria, Va., recommended the regents take a more aggressive tack.
Regents and Gerberding called other university presidents and higher education representatives to find out “who the real stars are,” regent Jon Runstad said.
“It’s a door-opener,” said regent Scott Oki. “Some of the prospects are more willing to talk to regents than to search committee members at large.”
Still, “the ones you want probably say no the first time you talk to them,” said regent Dan Evans. “It’s a selling job, even with the prestige of the UW.”
The sales pitch involves emphasizing the job’s positive points, acknowledging the negative ones and making the candidates feel wanted. Money and politics figure heavily in the mix.
“One of the mistakes people make is thinking (that leading) the University of Washington is some plum job,” Oki said. “We may think that, but a lot of people don’t. We’re facing a budget crunch. It’s not an ideal situation to be walking into.”
In addition to government funding, candidates also want to know how the UW fares in private fund-raising, support from business, the use of technology and other issues, Skinner and Oki said.
“It’s a quality-of-life issue, a quality-ofeducation issue,” Skinner said. “It’s not a quality-of-faculty-and-student issue - we have among the best in the country. No one argues with that.”
And the candidates probably get to ask those questions of multiple search committees. Johns Hopkins University, the University of Iowa and the University of California system all have searches under way.
Dave Frohnmayer, who replaced Myles Brand as president of the University of Oregon last year, discovered the effect of competing searches when he chaired the university’s provost search committee.
“We’re engaged in a national game called ‘bag the leader,”’ Frohnmayer said. “Corporations, foundations and universities are all going after a smaller pool.
“Consequently, everyone’s finalist is everyone else’s finalist.”