Wynne Updates University Community on Presidential Search

November 4, 2009 — The committee charged with nominating the eighth University of Virginia president has published a document that outlines for candidates what it will mean to take the reins at U.Va.

John O. Wynne, University rector and chairman of the Special Committee on the Nomination of a President, reported to the University community in an e-mail last Friday that the committee has also spent hours interviewing higher education leaders.

"You will not be surprised to learn that many of them are watching the University's search with great interest," Wynne wrote. "They believe that because of John Casteen's outstanding leadership and the attractiveness of the University, we will be able to create what one called a 'sensational' candidate pool and in the end find the right individual to be our next president."

President John T. Casteen III will retire Aug. 1 at the completion of his 20th year as president.

The 16-page position description, "Seeking an Extraordinary Individual to Lead the Institution into its Third Century," calls on Virginius Dabney's description of Thomas Jefferson's vision for the University.

In beginning his 1981 book "Mr. Jefferson's University," Dabney wrote, "Thomas Jefferson's version of a great university founded on educational principles never before applied on this continent became a reality when the University of Virginia opened its doors in 1825."

The document lays out the University's background, its structure, its educational and financial challenges, and even a bit of custom and terminology. ("Only physicians are addressed as 'Dr.' University faculty are referred to as Mr., Ms., Miss or Mrs. The founder is generally referred to as Mr. Jefferson.")

With the input from faculty, staff, students, alumni and the community at six public forums held in August and September, the committee devised a list of 10 characteristics the next president must have, such as the ability to hire great people and build effective teams; to articulate issues and build consensus around solutions; and to speak out on higher education issues.

The committee recognized that one person may not embody all the characteristics, but it highlighted this summary by the faculty consultant group, which said a successful president will need to embrace the University's "dynamic tensions:" "its unique combination of public mission with private initiative; its commitments to educational breadth and to the rigor and intensity of highly focused research; its dual needs to innovate freshly, even radically, and to sustain its finest traditions."

More than 170 nominations have been submitted to the committee. Wynne cautioned again that the names of candidates must remain confidential.

"Higher education leaders have told us, and prior experience has informed us, that presidential searches can be effective only if candidates are assured of confidentiality," he wrote. "We also have been warned that a breach causes candidates to withdraw, threatening the viability of the search. We cannot take such a risk."

The committee has not set a firm deadline for sending its recommendation to the Board of Visitors, Wynne wrote.