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UM names co-chairs of presidential search committee, search firm

Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

As the search begins in earnest for the next president of the University of Missouri system, members of the committee who will narrow the field were told Monday to concentrate not just on the person who might fill the job but on the goals they want that person to accomplish.

The six members of the university’s Board of Curators met by teleconference to discuss the search and name the two co-chairs of the process charged with finding a successor to Tim Wolfe, who resigned in November after protests on the Columbia campus.

One co-chair leading the committee will be Cheryl D.S. Walker of St. Louis, an attorney who is a former curator. She earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the system’s Rolla campus before graduating from the Washington University law school.

While serving on the board, which she led in 2008, she was vice chair of the search that resulted in Gary D. Forsee’s being named as president. His resignation in 2011 to care for his ailing wife led to the hiring of Wolfe, who took office the next year.

In an interview after the meeting, Walker said that she anticipates an in-depth search process.

“This is an exciting place,” she said of the university system. “This is a great place. It has its issues, as all places in our nation have. But this is an exciting process and I’m looking forward to being part of the team that will make it happen.”

Joining Walker as co-chair is James H. Whitaker. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1967 from Mizzou, where he was co-captain of the football team, then graduated from the campus’ medical school in 1971. He practiced orthopedic surgery in Kansas City for 35 years and was physician or consultant to many high school, collegiate and professional sports teams.

Confidentiality is key

Helping with the search will be the firm of Isaacson, Miller, which is also involved with finding the system’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. That position was created in response to the racial unrest that prompted the resignation of Wolfe.

During Monday’s session, the firm’s founder, John Isaacson, laid out a three-phase process that he expects the search to follow. First, he said, is trying to answer a basic question: “What would you hope the new president gets done?”

Spelling out all of the general attributes you want the person to have can be helpful, Isaacson said. But it doesn’t really get to the heart of what a search needs to accomplish, which is figuring out the goals the next president should have, then finding someone with the qualifications to get them accomplished.

After that phase is completed, he said, the committee should begin assembling as wide a list of prospects as possible of who can get the job done. Finally, the winnowing process begins, with personal interviews, background searches, reference checks, social media and other means used to make sure the committee presents the right candidates to the curators for the final selection.

“The goal is to drastically reduce your risk and greatly increase your knowledge,” Isaacson said, “so you’ll know what you’re getting.”

The question of confidentiality also came up. Curator Phil Snowden noted that if names of candidates become public too early, particularly if the current employers of those prospects find out, it could jeopardize discussions with others.

Credit University of Missouri
Search committee co-chairs James Whitaker, left, and Cheryl Walker

He said that conversations among members of the committee can be kept under wraps a lot more easily than those with constituents on the campuses or members of the public. “If we’re talking to someone outside the committee,” he said, “we’ve got to be mum on the name.”

Curator John Phillips asked whether consulting business groups like Civic Progress of St. Louis would help the search cast a net beyond academia. Isaacson said such outreach can be valuable, but care has to be taken to keep names that come up during that process confidential.

Listening sessions with campus groups on the presidential search have already begun. In addition, public forums will be held on all four campuses next month, including April 4 at Rolla in the morning and at UMSL in the afternoon, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the Millennium Student Center. Forums are also scheduled for April 6 at Mizzou and April 8 at UMKC.

Besides the two co-chairs, also on the committee will be the six curators – the board has three vacancies – as well as the student representative to the board, Gene Graham of Mizzou, once his nomination is confirmed by the Missouri Senate. Other members of the committee are UMKC student Rakeem Golden of St. Louis; faculty members Sheilah Clarke-Ekong of UMSL and Stephanie Shonekan of Mizzou; and C. Joe Boehm, a building services supervisor at the Rolla campus.

The University of Missouri’s Board of Curators holds the license for St. Louis Public Radio.

Follow Dale on Twitter: @dalesinger

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.

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