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University of Colorado Regents Select Presidential Search Firm, to Pay More than $100k

October 9, 2018

University of Colorado President, seen here at a 2014 press conference, will retire in July.

The University of Colorado’s Board of Regents announced Monday they selected a firm to assist in the search for President Bruce Benson’s replacement .

Benson, CU’s longest serving president in six decades, will retire in July.

The regents selected Wheless Partners for the search, and the university will pay the firm a $99,000 flat professional fee, up to $25,000 in additional fees for expenses such as advertising, and additional money for travel expenses, said Patrick O’Rourke, CU vice president of university counsel and secretary to the Board of Regents. The regents could later increase the $25,000 cap, depending on the firm’s advertising strategy, O’Rourke said.

Previously, CU paid Storbeck/Pimental and Associates $189,299 in the search that chose Benson, and Heidrick and Struggles $133,682 in the search that chose Hank Brown.

Wheless Partners is headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., but has a Denver office, according to its website . In 2016, the regents hired the firm for a $50,000 fee and up to $10,000 in expenses to provide strategy and leadership advice at a regents retreat . Topics of discussion included the regents’ time, committee structures and relationships with each other and CU employees.

Wheless Partners senior partners Mike J.R. Wheless, Robert Witt and Scott Watson will lead the search process and candidate recruitment effort, according to a CU news release.

“They really liked the fact that Dr. Robert Witt was one of the members of the search team,” O’Rourke said of the regents. “Dr. Witt has been the former president of a university system and so understands from firsthand experience what the nature of the position is like and the skill set that is needed”

Witt led the University of Alabama system from 2012 to 2016. He announced in 2015 he would retire in August 2016, citing the want for more flexibility and time with his family as the reasons for his retirement, according to the Birmingham News .

O’Rourke said the regents also chose the firm because it offered a flat fee, rather than a fee based on the new president’s first-year salary, and they could prevent that potential escalation of cost. The firm also offered a two-and-a-half year placement guarantee, meaning it would repeat the search for the cost of expenses but no additional flat fee if the new president left before then.

“Wheless Partners has an excellent track record of success in placing effective, dynamic leaders,” Board of Regents Chair Sue Sharkeyc said in the news release. “With Wheless Partners’ deep nationwide network and leading-edge business and search model, Wheless provides coverage across education, government and all industries in order to find a gifted CEO to lead the CU system. We look forward to working with them to find CU’s next great leader.”

As of Monday morning, about 130 people had applied or had been nominated to serve on the presidential search committee, which will work in conjunction with the firm, O’Rourke said. Committee nominations closed at 5 p.m. Monday, and the regents will name the search committee during a special board meeting on Oct. 24. They’re expected to name one dean of a school, college or library; four faculty members; one staff member; one student; two alumni; and four community members to serve in addition to the co-chairs of the committee, regents Irene Griego and Heidi Ganahl.

In November, the regents will authorize the search committee to begin its work, after which the firm can begin posting the job and formally recruiting, O’Rourke said. The firm will be used to advertise and recruit candidates, and the committee will evaluate the candidates, he said.

The firm will be expected to develop selection criteria with the regents; provide advice about the marketplace for candidates and the anticipated terms of employment; provide advice on qualifications; recruit, screen and present candidates to the regents; conduct in-depth interviews of all candidates; check references and backgrounds at the direction of the regents; and, upon request, assist in the negotiation of employment terms with the designated finalist, according to the 11-page contract between the firm and the university.

All applicant materials will remain confidential until the board declares finalists or a single finalist, and the candidates must give their permission before they are named publicly, O’Rourke said.

In the past four presidential searches, the board has named a single finalist — a practice that scholars who study university presidential search practices have flagged as lacking in transparency and undermining the concept of shared governance .

The regents also will host four town hall meetings to collect university and community member feedback about the search. Griego and Ganahl will facilitate the meetings, which are scheduled Oct. 11 on the Colorado Springs campus; Oct. 16 on the Boulder campus; and Oct. 18 on the Anschutz and Denver campuses.

The Boulder meeting is scheduled from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 16 in Old Main.

Cassa Niedringhaus: 303-473-1106, cniedringhaus@dailycamera.com

 

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