Presidential search goes beyond tradition

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Presidential search goes beyond tradition

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As students struggle through midterms, DePaul’s presidential search committee is in the throes of asking itself, as well as students, faculty and staff, the traits they would most like to see in the next president.

In a push for transparency, presidential search committee chair Jim Ryan and chair of the Board of Trustees William Bennett invited students, faculty and staff to a forum about the search process. During the hour-long session, Ryan, Bennett and Rev. Ed Udovic, C.M. emphasized that they, and those appointed to the student, faculty and staff vetting committees were searching for the best candidate, regardless of their faith or academic background.

Bringing in the best candidates for the presidency has required a change in the search process. The hybrid search format was the result of conversations between the search committee and Witt/ Kieffer.

“A lot has changed in the time since we selected Father Holtschneider,” Ryan said. “Most top candidates won’t want to be part of an open search. So that was our challenge. We wanted to create a process that was confidential enough, but still open.”

The hybrid search format allows for candidates to come in and go through the search process without “risking relationships at their universities,” Ryan said. Because of this amended process and the work done by Witt/Kieffer and others over the summer.

“When we look for a president who can lead DePaul’s Catholic and Vincentian mission, we’re looking for someone who will do it in the context of 119 years of lived tradition.”

– Rev. Edward Udovic, C.M., Secretary of DePaul University

The vetting committees will be the voice of DePaul’s students, faculty and staff. DePaul’s mission and values, and finding a candidate who matches those, is at the forefront of the search process for the months to come.

“The present bylaws of DePaul don’t require the president to be Vincentian or even Catholic,” Udovic said during the forum. “What we need to do is find the best candidate, Catholic or not.”

The desired traits of the next president have come up before. The search committee sent a survey to students, faculty and staff to ask about what traits they believed the next president should have.

The general consensus of the survey, Ryan said, was that people wanted “someone committed to the values of the university.”

“(Values) are a priority for staff, students and faculty,” Ryan said. “We are the largest Catholic university in the country and we’re looking for someone who is a good person, who is engaging and willing to spend time here and learn about our campus and our students.”

Pat Stineman, a member of the Catholic Campus Ministry, doesn’t believe the next president has to be Catholic, but does hope that they’re honest and knowledgeable of DePaul’s mission and values.

“I’d like to see someone who’s honest about what they say they’re going to do,” he said. “Someone who focuses on core things and addresses them. (The search) shouldn’t take into account their race, academic background or even their faith. They should be respectful of different views and celebrate the diversity of religions here.”

Those leading the presidential search seem to be taking concerns like Stineman’s into account. At the forum, Bennett, Ryan and Udovic fielded a question that focused on what would happen if there were a lay president, or someone who is not of a religious background. Vincentian values may not define the best candidate for the job, but DePaul’s Vincentian identity is an important factor that the next president should be comfortable embracing and growing.

“DePaul from Sept. 10, 1898, has defined its Catholic identity first and foremost as inclusivity, welcoming, hospitality and using the university and this identity to find the highest common human denominator that unites us,” Udovic said.

“When we look for a president who can lead DePaul’s Catholic and Vincentian mission, we’re looking for someone who will do it in the context of 119 years of lived tradition. We’re not interested in reinventing that tradition. We’re not interested in changing that tradition. We’re interested in that tradition growing and deepening, because it always should, but we’re not looking for anyone to come in and do any fundamental changes to the institutional culture that we’ve built around our identity.”

The continued growth of the school, both this year and under the new president, has come up in different forms throughout the first few weeks of the school year. After last spring, the new policy measures that have been implemented focus on diversity and speech at DePaul. A professor who asked about the events of last spring and how that has impacted the search process, was told that the issues raised last year were part of the discussion and now the school has an opportunity to talk openly about issues.

Eric Jenkins, a senior at DePaul, said he would like to see someone who will make sure the protests of last spring don’t happen again and who truly lives up to the mission and “doesn’t just quote it.”

“I want someone who has integrity and fights for equality,” Jenkins said. “They should mean what they say and not just say it to be president. As long as they find someone who is genuine then that’s what matters to me.”

The honesty and dedication of the next president is also a concern of the search committee as they continue to add names to their list of potential candidates. Current president, the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M., has had input, Ryan said, and the committee was thankful for it.

“We have 25,000 students, two main campuses and a half a billion dollar budget,” Ryan said during the forum. “There’s a lot of complexity that goes along (with the job) and you can hit the mark on values, you can hit the mark on strategic thinking and miss the mark on being able to manage complexity and fail. So you’ve got to be able to manage size and complexity, and that puts a lot of potential candidates off the list.”

Ryan said that the search committee team is confident about the timeline they’ve set for themselves. The goal is to have a new president by March 1 so that they can spend time on campus before the term ends and also catch up on plans, like the next part of the strategic plan, over the summer.

“I would want everyone to know that we want a very transparent process, and, to students especially, that we have their best interests at heart.”