Search Firms Have Wider Networks Than Trustees or Faculty Members

To the Editor:

Milton Greenberg makes the point that “You Don’t Need a Search Firm to Hire a President” (The Chronicle, September 1). While a search firm is not a requirement for a presidential search, based on my experience as a former college president, a trustee of several colleges, and a long-term faculty member, I think a search firm can often help a college or university get a better president. The key advantage of using a search firm is that search firms are often likely to be able to entice persons with appropriate experience to apply for presidencies that these persons would not consider applying for without some coaxing from experts on presidencies—such as experienced search firms.

Because the job of college president is so difficult today, many potential good candidates, especially sitting college presidents, would like to talk with a search firm candidly about a presidential position before deciding to formally apply for the job. The search firms also contact persons that they think may be qualified for a particular position as the firms are very knowledgeable about the careers of persons that they may have met in previous searches for senior academic positions. The firms are likely to have a wider network of sources than most boards of trustees or faculty members at most colleges or universities.

Of course the search committee makes its own decisions about whom to interview and whom to recommend to the governing body. Iona College, where I currently teach, was able to widen its potential hiring pool by using an experienced search firm in its last search for a president. Iona was able with this assistance to hire a president who has done an excellent job as president since his appointment three years ago. (Search firms: Please stay away from him, as we still need him at Iona.)

Search firms are not always perfect. In the past two years, because of the shortage of experienced applicants for presidencies, I have been contacted four times by search firms looking to widen the pool of applicants. This was probably because of my success in developing new academic programs and increasing enrollments in existing majors when I served as an administrator of several institutions many years ago. I agreed to allow the search firms to nominate me in two such searches. The search committees were wiser than the search firms as neither college decided to interview me despite recommendations from the search firms. Trustees at both of these colleges did not want to consider hiring a president who could probably only expect to serve for perhaps five years because of my age (which is 80), and the faculty members of both of these colleges did not want to interview a potential candidate whose Harvard University doctorate was from the business school rather than from the liberal-arts or education majors—or from one of the law schools often favored by faculty members of search committees.

Picking the best possible president for any institution is important and the use of a search firm is often helpful.

Donald Grunewald
Professor of Strategic Management
Iona College
New Rochelle, N.Y.

The writer is former president of Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.

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