Updates from the Chair

Richard D. FainRichard D. Fain is chair of the University of Miami Presidential Search Committee, and vice chair of the UM Board of Trustees.

We're in a Very Good Place

Friday, March 27, 2015

What started out as a daunting assignment to do the seemingly impossible—replace Donna Shalala as UM President—has become an exciting exercise in the possible. 
Throughout the process, the Presidential Search Committee has been guided by certain principles. A key one is that we don’t know what we don’t know. Keeping an open and curious mindset has transformed our work into a learning experience and kept the deliberations lively and engaging. By hearing many interesting perspectives that all intersected in their unique love for and belief in this great institution, we have retained a fuller picture of the potential impact the perfect candidate can make. 

The process has progressed at a strong pace, and we now have four solid candidates -- an unusual position for a search committee to be in at this stage. We are continuing to interview the candidates and study their backgrounds. We remain optimistic that we can complete our process, confer with the appropriate parties, and finalize a choice well before the June 1 date that Donna has set. 

I would also like to comment on some of the rumors that I occasionally hear concerning this process. Every significant undertaking always generates a certain level of rumors. Fine. But it saddens me to report that there has been a shocking dearth of good rumors about this search -- at least those that have reached my ears. There have been a couple of names that I have heard quoted, but these names have remained essentially unchanged since before the search committee was even formed. Come on folks. Certainly you can do better than that. I will be disappointed if I don't soon hear at least one new and exciting rumor about a prospective candidate. And Sebastian doesn't do it for me. 

 We're in a good place. 

Progress Makes Perfect

Friday, January 30, 2015

Wow, what a complicated task. But progress has been good and this is a good point to take stock. Most importantly, I am happy to report that the early indications have been validated—the response has been very good.

We have seen a large number of impressive people throw their hat into the ring and/or respond positively to approaches by Russell Reynolds. The caliber of people who have expressed an interest is very high, and they come from diverse ethnic, gender, and experiential backgrounds. We have candidates from all walks of life and a surprising number of international candidates.

The progress has been good and proceeding rapidly. I attribute this to two things: Firstly, this is an important position and the interest level has been high. Secondly, the committee members have been so accommodating in adjusting their calendars. I am advised that it is common for search committees to have trouble getting everyone together, and that normally slows down the process. In this case, all the meetings have had 100 percent participation (or nearly so). We are now in the difficult process of narrowing our list so that we can concentrate on the most likely candidates. While the candidates so far have been impressive, we are still open for additions. We have just received some interesting nominations and we won't stop looking until we are done.

We also continue to do outreach sessions. We have now garnered the input from hundreds of interested parties and have more scheduled. Board of Trustees Chairman Stuart Miller has also participated in all of the outreach sessions. In fact, at this point he has participated in one more set of meetings than I have (but I have no intention of allowing that record to stand!).

We are on schedule, on track, and hope to be able to have recommendations to the full Board of Trustees in time for the group to react, negotiate, and properly coordinate the timely arrival of the new president. We are now in the most sensitive part of the search, and its confidentiality must be maintained.

The process has been far more thrilling...and challenging...than I ever imagined. The committee has been a joy to work with—committed and diligent. And it is impressive to meet the caliber of candidates with whom we have had the pleasure to see.

The search continues.

Reaching a Key Milestone -- Position Profile

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The development of the Position Profile has been a very interesting process. It is a lot harder than I imagined to put on paper all the attributes and experiences we would like to see in our next president. This is both because (a) the role is so broad that there are a plethora of desirable characteristics and (b) it is hard to articulate the many characteristics that make a leader great. I am very pleased with the final document, but I am even more pleased with the process that we went through to get here.

The final profile reflects the impactful insights we received from so many sources. I was immensely gratified at how informative and useful the dialogue about the profile turned out to be. As we continue to engage with so many important constituencies, we are repeatedly impressed by the eagerness of the University community to support and encourage this process. People have spoken to us with candor and with passion. And their voices have been extremely helpful.

There were two elements I found particularly surprising. First, the process forced our attention on the competing priorities for the next President. There is clearly a great hunger by all parties to be sure their individual priorities are given proper weight in the selection process. That is normal and healthy. But it was remarkable to get such an intensive view into just how broad these priorities are. Clearly, this is a daunting task. Second, it was eye-opening to see how attractive the University and the Miami community have become. I thought I had a good appreciation of the unique characteristics of the U and of our community. What I found exciting was to grasp just how widely the word has spread.

Search Timeline

Monday, December 1, 2014

One of the most frequently asked questions relates to the timeline for the search. While our answer is that we will take as long as necessary to recruit the next great president for the University of Miami, our external constraint is that President Shalala intends to step down at the end of the academic year. Hence, we are guided by the mantra “don’t rush, but don’t dawdle.”

We invite and indeed encourage every member of the UM community, as well as our friends and supporters, to submit nominations of individuals you think would be outstanding and eminently qualified leaders of this great university. Nominations should be submitted confidentially to umiami.president@russellreynolds.com.

We are not rushing as fast as we can!

Building a Candidate Profile

Friday, November 28, 2014

The search committee is in the process of developing a “position profile,” which will set forth the experiences, attributes, and qualifications that we would like to see in potential candidates. The profile will be used as both a recruitment tool to highlight our strengths and accomplishments to prospective candidates, and to remind us of the “ideal” set of characteristics, credentials, and experiences commended to us by various constituents.

To help gather information for the profile, we are holding a series of outreach sessions to hear from different constituents within the university community. Thus far, we have held sessions with members of the Faculty Senate, student government leaders, university administrative officers, deans of UM’s colleges and schools, alumni, and human resource executives.

The sessions have been remarkably robust and helpful. Our experience to date has been that – while there is frequently a period of awkwardness at the beginning – once the ice is broken, the commentary pours forth. Participants have been open and constructive in their comments. It is absolutely clear that all the people from whom we have heard care deeply about finding the best person to succeed Donna. It is also clear that the community is realistic about how difficult our task will be. Overall, participants have been eager to share insights and observations of the traits and characteristics that would make someone successful at the U. For that, we are enormously appreciative.

My colleagues on the search committee and I have been delighted at how invigorating and informative these sessions have been.

Search Firm has Extensive Experience

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

One of the first tasks of the presidential search committee was to select a search firm to assist us. We started by collecting a list of 14 potential firms whose names and reputations we became aware of through contacts, nominations, or other sources. We vetted each of these firms and then reduced that long list to a short list of three firms for in-depth interviews. All three had extensive experience in searching for university presidents at prestigious institutions. Personally, I am confident that any of the three could have done an excellent job.

In the end, the committee selected Dr. Ilene H. Nagel of Russell Reynolds Associates. Ilene has been the search consultant retained for searches at MIT, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan, to name a few. Among the reasons the search committee retained Ilene is the fact that she is herself a lifelong academic, having served as a tenured professor for 22 years at various AAU research universities, followed by academic administrative appointments as Dean of the Graduate School, Associate Provost for Research, and ultimately, Executive Vice Chancellor (Provost). We were encouraged that this broad and deep academic and administrative experience would help her (and us) in this process.

Getting Started and Aiming High

Monday, November 24, 2014

I thought it might be helpful to provide intermittent updates on significant events during the search process, and on my personal reactions. I am not experienced at this, so I hope you will bear with me.

Two of the biggest surprises thus far have been the reaction from people outside our community, and the reaction from people within our community.

First, the external. The process has entailed more external contact than I initially expected. I have reached out to people who have chaired other search committees, to recently appointed university presidents, to academic search firms, etc. (However, it’s not true that I have also randomly stopped people walking down the street.) All of this dialogue has proven to be extremely helpful; people have been very generous with their time and advice.

One consistent theme that pleased and gratified me was the reaction of “foreign” (i.e. non-Miami) observers to the search. Without exception, every single person commented on how dramatically the stature of the University of Miami had risen during Donna’s tenure. They all made clear that the rise in the prestige of the University was so significant, that they expected the position to attract highly desirable candidates. I was also pleased and encouraged at the degree to which Miami’s status as a premier location was recognized. We all know how much both the University and the surrounding community have advanced over the last years, but it was rewarding to see how universally it was recognized externally.

The second gratifying surprise was the reaction from within our community. Any concerns I had about people pushing private agendas, or trying to “game” the process were quickly dispelled. We have been greeted with nothing but strong and emphatic assurances of support. Everyone to whom I have spoken has assured me of their wish to be supportive and cooperative. There seems to be a clear understanding of the need to approach the subject in an open, methodical and deliberative process. There also appears to be a clear understanding of why confidentiality is so important to the success of the search.

We are aiming high; given the reactions from both internal and external contacts, we believe we are right to do so.