University President Mary Sue Coleman broke long-standing precedent when she was appointed despite not having any prior affiliation with the institution. By July 2014, that aberration may become the start of a new trend.
As the first president to be appointed from outside the University since 1979, Coleman proved to stakeholders worldwide that she could manage the ropes of three university campuses, an athletic department with the fifth-largest national revenue and a consistently top-ranked health system. However, over the next 10 months, the University Board of Regents will be tasked with choosing whether to once again seek a candidate from outside the University or turn within the boundaries of its campuses.
The advisory committee in charge of short-listing presidential candidates recently released a Presidential Profile detailing their expectations. In an e-mail interview, Regent Katherine White (D), the vice chair of the board and acting spokeswoman during the search process, wrote that each candidate, regardless of prior affiliation with the University, would bring “something unique to the equation” and be judged based on the profile.
“All candidates will be evaluated on their own merit, whether they are internal or external,” she wrote in an e-mail interview. “It is difficult to generalize about pros and cons based solely on whether a candidate is internal or external.”
E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs, said in a September interview that some of the internal issues she believed the upcoming president would be faced with include keeping college affordable, maintaining a balance between academic and athletic excellence, and improving diversity and inclusion.
“I don’t know if it’ll be a challenge, but we certainly want a president that understands the history of this place and the students’ role in it,” Harper said.
Michael Bastedo, an associate professor of education, said he believed that an internal president had the advantage of needing less time to build connections within the University.
“I think we can learn that hiring someone externally doesn’t mean they make a bad president,” Bastedo said. “Even though she was hired externally, now the perception of President Coleman is she’s a very Michigan person — not somebody that wants to just act autocratically.”
By July 2014, the regents’ decision to choose a president from within the University will depend on their valuation of leadership qualities. Matt Chingos, a fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy, said although having a top University administrator step up to the presidency would be a more “natural transition,” someone from the outside would be more likely to bring an out-of-the-box perspective to the institution.
The solution may be to choose someone who had held a position in the University for only a short period of time, Chingos said.
Coleman said in a September interview that her experience serving as a president of the University of Iowa prepared her to serve the same at another Big Ten university. It took a few years, she said, but over time she believed she was able to learn the ropes of the University.
“It’s like drinking from a fire hose,” Coleman added. “You have to just learn, learn, learn and listen intently, but it can be the most exhilarating.”
— Daily Staff Reporter Jennifer Calfas contributed reporting.