Replacing Santa Ono: Hiring a college president is exciting, but oh so challenging

As UBC searches for information before searching for a new president, an expert steps in.

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Whoever takes over as UBC’s next president after Santa Ono leaves in October will take on a rewarding and challenging role. That makes it one of the toughest jobs to hire, says a former university president and former adviser to a major search firm.

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“One of the joys of the job is that you deal with so many interesting, diverse, talented people,” said Ross Paul from his home in Kits.

“One of the challenges of the job is that you’re dealing with diverse and talented people,” he added, laughing.

Paul has been an adjunct professor of education at UBC since retiring from academic administration in 2008. He was president of the University of Windsor for 10 years and university president for a total of 18 years at three schools.

He also spent several years on the academic advisory board of knights bridgeA large recruiting firm, which advises at least eight Canadian universities on their presidential searches, meets with search committees but also with university boards.

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It was fascinating work, Paul said, and helped him immensely in writing his 2015 book, Leadership Under Fire: The Challenging Role of the Canadian University President, and other publications on university leadership.

“Obviously, my experience as academic vice president and president helped, but selecting the right person is more of an art than a science and there are no guarantees of success.”

Academia is a different jungle than the business world, naturally, but it’s fascinating how much they differ in hiring presidents: CEOs are often groomed by their predecessors, while universities look for someone to fill the top chair. high in the ivory tower.

“Most college presidents made a name for themselves as professors, then they became presidents, then deans and maybe vice presidents, they worked their way up through academia,” Paul said.

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Many presidents were previously academic vice presidents, but most academic vice presidents—responsible for creating and carrying out academic priorities—tend to stay with the same institution, while presidents tend to leave after one term.

“You look better with people who don’t know your weaknesses,” Paul said, only partly joking. “Also, an academic vice president deals with labor relations, deals with promotion and tenure, has to make a lot of tough decisions that don’t always win friends.

“Whereas the president is much more capable of floating above that.”

The University of Michigan announced on July 13 that it would hire UBC’s Ono as its 15th president, leaving UBC searching for its 16th president. UBC’s board of governors is in the process of getting cross-party feedback on the qualities to expect in a new president, then a search committee will be formed.

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An interim president will be appointed before Ono takes office on October 13.

When Paul was doing research for his book, he found that nearly 90 percent (41 of the 47 schools Paul has used for research over decades) of Canadian university presidents came to work from outside the institution, but that 85 percent came from a high administrative position. position, usually vice president or dean, at another Canadian university.

“We still hire overwhelmingly from the relatively small pool of people in senior academic administrative positions at established Canadian universities,” Paul said.

A recent article found a change in the language used to attract university presidents, probably due to the increasing use of headhunting companies.

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While university presidents were once portrayed in job advertisements as respected academics, the newspaper says, they are now portrayed as charismatic heroes.

Are you a visionary leader? A superb scholar? Charming high-energy? We love you!!! This is what an ad for college president might look like, just a little exaggerated.

“Overall, the findings suggest that popular, albeit unrealistic, heroic portrayals of senior administrators at Canadian universities are becoming prevalent in the crafting of job advertisements,” the paper says.

It’s up to the individual search committee how they go about their business, of course.

“They certainly should be looking for the best person for the job, not necessarily the best person,” Paul said. “Institutional fit is a crucial consideration.”

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Paul isn’t close enough to UBC to know what they’ll be looking for in Ono’s replacement, but he strongly advocates using a recruiting firm.

“It takes a really comprehensive process. … The joke is that all the ads look the same, they all look for someone who can walk on water.

“I firmly believe that there are no super candidates that can go anywhere, it is the best option for the values, personalities and interests” of a university.

[email protected]

twitter.com/gordmcintyre


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