West Virginia University is a sprawling institution of 33,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 200 degree programs, 14 colleges, two main campuses, a huge medical complex, a law school and extension offices throughout the state.
More than 20,000 people work for WVU. They are faculty and staff, researchers and administrators, coaches and medical doctors. The WVU President chairs boards of the West Virginia United Health System, WVU Hospitals and the WVU Research Corporation.
The total annual budget for WVU and its affiliates is more than $2.5 billion.
With Jim Clements’ departure for Clemson University, WVU must begin the search for someone who can manage such a diverse and complex institution.
A 2012 report by the American Council on Education offers some insights about college presidents. Here are some of the findings:
–The average age of college presidents is 61, nine years older than two decades ago. According to the study, “As colleges and universities face a growing number of internal and external challenges, governing boards and committees are likely looking for more experienced leaders.”
–Experience matters more today. Fifty-four percent of college and university presidents in 2011 held that same position in their previous job. In 1984, “only 40 percent of sitting presidents held a presidency in their previous role.”
–Presidents cite fundraising as one of their primary responsibilities, along with developing budgets, community relations and strategic planning. However, the survey found that “fundraising was the area presidents stated they were least prepared to address when they began their presidency.”
–Universities increasingly need help finding the right person. Between 1969 and 1983, only 12 percent of presidential searches employed a consultant, but today that has risen to 80 percent.
Beyond the statistics, however, lie the intangibles, the impalpable assets necessary to be successful.
Perhaps the number one quality that the next President of WVU should have is the ability to assemble a team and lead. It’s impossible for a President to know (and operate) all the different aspects of the school, so he must be highly skilled at finding and retaining managers and keeping them focused on the mission.
The next President of WVU should also understand politics, without being a politician. He or she needs to build relationships with the political power brokers, but still keep a distance so the University is not subject to political whims.
Finally, the President must understand that he/she is the face of the University. Everyone from the 18-year-old freshman to well-heeled donors to national education leaders will make judgments about the University based on their perception of the President.
The word “pride” often comes up in conversations about West Virginia University. West Virginians, whether they have attended the University or not, look upon the school with a sense of honor and gratification.
Those responsible for hiring the next President must appreciate the importance of making the right choice, one that values the history of the institution, its significance to the state, and gives WVU the best chance for success in the future.