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SLU seeks boldness, creativity in new president

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 30, 2013 - After collecting opinions from a variety of campus groups, Saint Louis University has begun seeking a president who will be expected to “maintain SLU’s Jesuit core values and existing strengths, while building boldly and creatively on the university’s potential for future growth.”

The 10-page document, describing the qualities SLU wants in a new chief executive, linked online from the university’s presidential search page, was approved last weekend by the board of trustees.

It will be the basis of advertisements that SLU will place in a variety of education and other publications, seeking a successor to the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, who stepped down Sept. 1 after serving as president since 1987. He is now president emeritus; Bill Kauffman, the university’s general counsel, is serving as interim president as the search goes forward.

Working with the firm AGB Search, an 11-member search committee headed by trustee Jim Smith plans to seek candidates, narrow the list, then present finalists to the full SLU board. The goal is to have a new president in place by July of next year.

The search committee includes six trustees, four members of the faculty, including a dean, and one student.

Leading at a time of accelerated change

Detailing what is sought for the university’s 32nd president, the description of the position said that “at a time of accelerated change in all of higher education, the Saint Louis University presidency offers a unique opportunity for leadership.”

Biondi’s successor, it added, “will be expected to embrace SLU’s future with a firm sense of institutional grounding, while combining qualities of courage and sensitivity, leadership and management, and prudent risk-taking with objective analysis. He/she will find an opportunity to lead SLU to greater distinction.”

The document said that the agenda the new president would follow includes:

  • Maintaining and strengthening the school’s Jesuit mission, though the choice need not be a Jesuit.
  • Providing distinguished and trusted leadership, to “engage the entire community in reflecting, envisioning, and planning for the academic future of the university and exemplify a life of intellectual achievement, acceptance and inclusion.”
  • Continuing SLU’s strong management of its finances and focusing on fund raising to increase the university’s $1 billion endowment.
  • Broadening the university’s reputation in liberal arts, medicine and other professional programs.
  • Incorporating its Madrid campus more strongly into the life of the university.
  • Creating and strengthening “the best of personal and professional relationships with key constituencies,” with a special emphasis on faculty. Dissent between Biondi and professors was intense in the months leading up to his departure.
  • Focusing on students and campus diversity.
  • Building on the presence of the SLU medical campus, where nearly half of the university’s budget, faculty, staff and students are involved.
  • Extending the relationship between the president and the SLU board of trustees.

Personal attributes

To achieve these goals and others, the document said the next president should “possess and model a number of attributes,” including:

  • “A commitment to support the ideals of the Catholic, Jesuit mission, an appreciation for the distinctive culture and values of Saint Louis University, and the ability to articulate those ideals persuasively.”
  • A history of “significant and successful senior leadership experience in higher education.”
  • “An excellent mind with broad vision, varied interests, a fresh perspective, balanced judgment, and creativity.”
  • An understanding of and appreciation for the role of faculty.
  • Excellent communication skills.
  • A commitment to the value of and need for diversity.
  • “A collaborative and consultative leadership style that builds community and fosters teamwork.”
  • “A focus on students with a genuine enjoyment in interacting with them and in participating in the life of the campus community.”
  • “An appreciation for the balance of academics, Division I athletics, and other extracurricular activities.”
  • “Energy, stamina, enthusiasm, humility and a sense of honor.”

Open process

Smith, the SLU trustee who heads the search committee, said in a letter to the university community that forums held with a variety of campus groups helped contribute to a document that he called “clear, focused, and reflective of the broad-based input we received.”

He also said the result “would be a positive selling document that will represent the university well to any prospective candidate.”

The profile for the new president approved by the trustees is in some ways similar to a list published earlier this year by the SLU Faculty Senate. That list emphasized the role of shared governance and successful partnerships with faculty groups, two areas of disagreement with Biondi over the past year.

Publication of the latest document begins the second phase of the presidential search, where over the next few months, the search committee will begin to gather names of prospective candidates.

“It is important for you to know,” Smith said in his letter, “that, to date, we have not talked to any potential candidates, but this process will begin immediately in earnest. We have received many nominations, and we will follow up on every one of those suggestions. In addition, further suggestions are most welcome.”

After coming up with a list of 10-12 names, he said, the committee will narrow the field further, to 2-3 candidates whose names will be presented to the full board. Smith has said the list will be presented in order of the committee’s preference. The new president is expected to be on board in July.

Smith said he was grateful for the support and information supplied by the campus groups whose responses helped shape the presidential search document.

“We want everyone to have a chance to express his or her opinions about the new president,” he said, “and we believe strongly that the search process must be open and known to anybody who has any interest in it. I especially appreciate the input we received, because we felt it was very honest, was given to us in a spirit of great caring about the university, and with a commitment to advancing SLU.”

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