UNC’s committee continues search for new president

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A number of questions arise as the spring semester starts about how the University of Northern Colorado will find its next president. In late January, Alberto M. Pimentel with the firm Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates presented how he and his team are working towards gathering potential candidates for UNC’s next president to the Board of Trustees and the presidential search committee. This came a few days after the firm held various forums with both students and faculty members to see what they want in a new president.

Pimentel and his team determined that starting recruitment through advertising would not be the best financial decision as “no one is around in December.” The process is moving fast despite the strategic delay as they are trying to reach potential candidates during times where they would be searching for a new position.

Instead, an ad for the position was placed at the start of the year in multiple publications such as the Chronicle of Higher Education which is, as Pimentel explains, the primary journal for job searches of this nature. The ad additionally appears in journals focusing on diversity in higher education. Pimentel has not issued a hard copy of the ad as he sees it as not financially advantageous to put it in print.

While responses for the position have come in since the ads came out, either in the form of applications or questions, Pimentel explains how the best candidates come not from ads but from word-of-mouth networking; this allows for a wide net to be cast for people interested in the position or refer others of the position as people generally learn that the position is open.

Throughout the month of December, Pimentel and his team made phone calls to various people who may be interested in the position or know someone who would be eligible in their network. Pimentel explained that these calls were not meant to recruit, but to get the word out that the position is available. Heavier recruitment will take place later, as December is not a prime time for job searching and rather a time for settling down from a busy year. From December to last week, 900 calls have been made. His team has gotten 400 responses since then.

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The primary types of candidates they are looking towards are those involved in higher education, master-granting institutions, and major research institutions as well as non-traditional candidates who come not from higher education but are elected officials or are from industry, business, nonprofits etc. Additionally, the type of candidates that Pimentel and his team are looking for are those who may find the position as an opportunity and a step up from their previous position in order to make this position enticing. The broad candidate search is so the team can generate a more diverse pool of candidates. They are looking for candidates that are not only diverse in ethnicity or in background, but in academic background.

“I’ve been here for the last couple of days, and what I’ve been doing is spending time talking to the different groups and subgroups on campus,” Pimentel said.  “What I was trying to do is get a 360 degree exposure to the different key individuals on campus. Because… once we get past the niceties of here what’s the institution is all about, here’s what they’re doing, here’s the size of the budget, here’s the general political landscape of Colorado. After we get through that, the next series of conversations are more serious and more in-depth.”

His discussions with the various perspectives on campus are to help educate himself and his team to answer questions the candidates may have honestly as well as present the challenges of taking this position. At the student forums Pimentel hosted, the feedback focused on a candidate with a student affairs background or a person of color, as well as someone that communicate well and prioritizes students’ needs. The next step is creating a position profile about what is expected of the UNC president and the aspirations of the campus which will be cultivated from the talks Pimentel had with the various campus groups and will be revised by the committee to make sure it best represents UNC. The document profile will be given to candidates.

Files for candidates have since been released to the committee for review. With permission, the firm is willing to distill the application review process and categorize all applications in three categories. Committee members have complete veto power at any point during this categorization, in order to pursue or deny a candidate judged by the firm to be otherwise. On Feb 7, review will take place and it will be determined if further recruiting will be needed or if the team can proceed with interviews.

Confidentiality with these candidates is key.

“Individuals who we’ve been talking to, especially those who are sitting presidents, have made it really clear that they will not engage if it’s going to be a process that is going to expose them. Because they simply can’t afford the downside risk of not getting the job and then having to go back to their current campus and explain to their current board why they were looking for another job,” Pimentel said.

Concluding the process will require a critical decision to be made by the Board of Trustees and the presidential search committee.

“The landscape has changed rather dramatically. It’s become more competitive and also has become more vindictive,” Pimentel said. “We didn’t used to have people get fired because they looked at presidency and we are now. So people are more protective.”

Pimentel presented three types of searches the committee will have to proceed with once the recruitment and interview processes end and a top three or four candidates are selected for further consideration. The three types are: open search, closed search and hybrid search.

An open search consists of potential, selected candidates being interviewed by the campus community. The involvement of the entire campus with the selection of the new president would be ideal. However, candidates may be lost depending on how much risk the candidates may face. Pimentel estimates that every sitting president interested in this position will be lost and one-third of city provosts will back down.

A closed search requires the committee to vet candidates and the top candidates then move on to the consideration of the board, who then determines who will be hired on. Pimentel explained that this option is not favored by the campus community nor by the candidates as there is too limited of communication between the two parties during the hiring process.

“They don’t know who they are leading,” Pimentel said. “They don’t get to meeting any of those individuals. They just get to meet the board members, and while the board members may reflect the same concerns, issues and promises, it’s different when you meet different people… It’s pragmatic because they do not have a choice. If they are a sitting president, that may be the only option they have.”

The hybrid search can combine the open search and closed search in two different ways. Due to the changing nature of this job search and its risks, the hybrid search recently came about as a solution to the problems both facing candidates and campuses in the face of open and closed searches.

The first option requires the committee to vet the candidates and the top candidates go through a final interview process with the board. The sole finalist is then the candidate able to visit the campus. The second option requires a group of faculty members, students, administrators, support staff, etc. who sign a nondisclosure agreement to interview the top candidates. With consideration of this broad group interview, the board members then makes their decision. A complication of hybrid searches is that it must be done quickly in case of leaked information and confidentiality being lost.

The conclusion of the search will not be determined for a while as they are still in the recruiting process. A decision, though, must be made after the full screening of the candidate in order to proceed which is an estimated 3-4 weeks away. Pimentel noted that this decision will be driven by who their selected candidates may be and that the more sitting presidents there are for consideration, the less likely they will want to choose an open search. Pimentel explained that the decision they come to on the type of search cannot change as it can have negative consequences such as losing favor with the campus community or losing candidates depending on the manner of change.

Executive session took place after the presentation “for the purpose of discussing matters pertaining the presidential search and confidential information relating to potential candidates.”

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