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‘Open search’ for Ohio State’s next president expected to take about 300 days

Jeffrey Wadsworth (left), chair of the OSU Presidential Search Committee, and Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Schottenstein speak about the search for a new university president at a July 19 press conference.

Caitlin Essig / Managing editor for content

At the inaugural meeting of Ohio State’s Presidential Search Committee, Chairman Jeffrey Wadsworth said the search is expected to take about 300 days.

“We want to be aggressive but thorough,” Wadsworth said at a Friday press conference about the search process. “If we benchmark how long a search typically takes at other universities in the recent past, it’s about 300 days. Unless you have an internal candidate, in which case it’s about 100 days.”

He said those 300 days “may include a significant amount of time from offering the job to the candidate showing up because (they could have) a current job which they’re obligated to.”

The Board of Trustees Presidential Search Committee convened Friday to begin the search to replace former university president E. Gordon Gee, who retired July 1. Former provost and executive vice president Joseph Alutto began his term as interim president following Gee’s leave.

Board Chairman Robert Schottenstein said the responsibility of finding a new OSU president is a great one.

“Selection of the university’s next president is, without a question, the most significant responsibility of the Ohio State University Board of Trustees,” Schottenstein said. “We undertake this responsibility today at a time of both enormous importance and clearly enormous promise.”

The search committee plans to use an outside executive search firm to aid the process, although one has not been selected yet.

“We hope to have the firm picked fairly soon, by which I mean (in) weeks,” Wadsworth said. “Why are we using a search firm? Because we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t know everything so we’re going to get help in that regard.”

With the process just getting started, Wadsworth said the committee has no specific candidates in mind.

“We have discussed no candidates whatsoever,” Wadsworth said. “This is an open search. I am absolutely committed to creating a process that will bring the best people forward. There is no agenda, there is no predetermined candidate.”

The Presidential Search Committee is comprised of two subcommittees: a selection committee and an advisory committee. The selection committee, chaired by Wadsworth, has four other members as well – Schottenstein, Michael Gasser, Janet Reid and Alex Shumate.

The 13-member advisory subcommittee is being chaired by OSU law professor Deborah Jones Merritt. The advisory subcommittee is made up of faculty members, elected student leaders, staff and senior administrators. Its goal is to “represent and seek input from the university community and delineate the desired qualities, skills and experiences of the next president,” according to a press release.

Merritt said she is grateful to be leading the advisory committee’s charge.

“I can say without reservation that the university’s excellence has grown each and every year of my time here,” Merritt said at the President Search Committee meeting. “I’m eager to begin reaching out to faculty, staff and students to get all of their ideas on the qualities the university needs for its next leader. In the great spirit of faculty here, I am committed to being open, transparent and inclusive in our search.”

Schottenstein touched on the university’s appeal, which he said adds to the importance of and ability to attract a great new leader.

“Our academic strength has never been better,” Schottenstein said in his charge to the Board. “We have momentum. The university has made significant progress over the last number of years and we continue to get better. This is a moment of both extraordinary promise and profound importance, and we do not undertake this responsibility lightly.”

He said the next president will ideally push the university’s progress ahead even further.

“Our charge today is to seek a leader who will not only sustain momentum but who has the leadership ability, the human persona to accelerate it,” Schottenstein said to the committee.

To aid in the search process, the Board has launched a website detailing the committee’s charge and allowing feedback from anyone wishing to offer suggestions.

Additionally, a panel discussion is scheduled to coincide with the Board’s Aug. 29-30 meeting. The discussion is to be open to the public and feature national leaders discussing the challenges and requisites of the university presidency.

Other universities, including Penn State University and the University of Michigan are also searching for new leaders. Penn State’s Rodney Erickson and Michigan’s Mary Sue Coleman are both set to leave their respective universities within the next year.

But Wadsworth isn’t worried about the competition.

“I think, and I really mean this, I think the profile of the Ohio State University, with the resources that are available, and the momentum we have going, we can compete against anyone. And we intend to,” Wadsworth said at the press conference.

Schottenstein agreed.

“We feel this is a special place with a unique roar,” Schottenstein said at the press conference. “This will be a successful search if the person that we’re seeking to attract embraces that.”

The next president will be the university’s 15th since its inception 143 years ago. Before Gee’s term as president, current interim president Alutto served as interim president for more than 90 days, following 13th president Karen Holbrook’s leave.

Details of Gee’s exit package are not yet finalized, Schottenstein said, but will be resolved “shortly” and made public.

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