Working quickly and comprehensively is the motto for UMass presidential search committee

By Anthony Rentsch

The University of Massachusetts kicked off its search for a new president of the five-campus system following current President Robert Caret’s announcement that he will step down to become chancellor of the University System of Maryland.

On Feb. 6, the Board of Trustees formed a 21-member search committee that encompassed “diversity of all respects,” UMass spokesperson Robert Connolly said. The committee consists of students, faculty, administrators, trustees and alumni recommended through various student and faculty governing organizations on the five UMass campuses.

The committee will recommend candidates to the Board, which will select UMass’ 27th president.

According to Connolly, the Board emphasized that it wanted to appoint the system’s next president by July 1, as Caret will be leaving office at the end of June.

“It’s an ambitious timetable. Old (searches) have run six months to a year,” Connolly said, adding that the search committee took about 10 months when it recommended Caret to the Board in 2011. “The Board of Trustees wants to do it as expeditiously as possible – they don’t want an interim president if possible.”

There have been seven interim or acting presidents since 1864, when UMass was known as Massachusetts Agricultural College.

In an effort to get the process started on the right foot, Robert Manning, chair of the committee, has already begun to interview possible outside consultants, a step that Connolly said doesn’t usually occur until the first committee meeting. Connolly anticipates that the committee would meet for the first time toward the end of February, at which point it will select a consulting firm and begin to build a candidate pool.

“It’s another way to expedite the process,” Connolly said. “They want a consultant there on day one.”

While the Board would like a timely presidential transition, Connolly said members understand that the search must be conducted correctly, something that may be difficult to do in four and a half months.

“Finding the best person trumps the idea of the timetable,” he said. “They want to streamline the process without compromising it.”

Just what that right person looks like remains to be seen. However, Connolly said the Board put forward a general description of whom they would like to see at the helm of the UMass system.

“They want a president who can continue the work of being a good spokesperson for UMass and garnering public support and support from the state legislature,” he said. “They want a strong advocate for UMass in every respect and someone who can do everything.”

UMass Amherst is represented in the search committee by student trustee Sarah Freudson, Isenberg School of Management Dean Mark Fuller and Yemisi Jimoh, professor of Afro-American studies in the W.E.B. Du Bois department.

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Anthony_Rentsch.