University of Rochester

Chairman’s Message

A Search Begins

Alumni are encouraged to share their thoughts as Rochester searches for a successor to President Jackson. By G. Robert Witmer Jr. ’59
University Board of Trustees Chair G. Robert Witmer Jr. ’59

Last fall I had the opportunity to write to Review readers about the general responsibilities of the Board of Trustees and about the exceptional service of our past chairman, Robert B. Goergen ’60. Now I write to focus on the biggest responsibility of the trustees: the selection of a new president.

As you know, President Jackson will step down as of June 30, 2005, after 11 years of distinguished leadership, and I have agreed to chair the search for his successor.

A university rarely does “succession planning” as a private corporation would. In fact, another widespread tradition prevails in academe, in which a president announces his or her plans to vacate the position well before that time arrives.

That’s exactly what President Jackson has done. By announcing his plans 16 months in advance, he allows the institution enough time to do the painstaking work required to find a leader from the national pool of those who might be prepared to lead the University as its 10th president.

Our first step is to appoint the appropriate groups within the University to conduct the search. Paramount, of course, is the Trustees’ Presidential Search Committee—the group that ultimately votes to recommend a candidate to the full board.

Trustees who have agreed to join me in this capacity: Laurence Bloch ’75, Sheila Blumstein ’65, William Carpenter, Steven Chu ’70, Roger Friedlander ’56, Robert Goergen ’60, Edmund Hajim ’58, Michael Jones ’76, Gail Leone ’71, Peter Standish ’64, Carl Williams ’75S (MBA), and Roy Whitney ’72, ’73S (MBA).

Just as important is the University Advisory Committee, which brings a view of the institution that is absolutely essential for a search to match the candidate to the University. This model—a trustee committee and an advisory committee working together—served us exceptionally well in the process that ended in our choice of Tom Jackson in 1994. Not only was the result superb, but the process led to meaningful interaction and long-lasting friendships for advisory committee members and trustees—all to the benefit of the University. I anticipate the same results this time.

The members selected for our current advisory committee (chosen from among recommendations from the Faculty Senate and, separately, from the schools’ deans) are listed on the Presidential Search Web site.

Additionally, we seek the advice and counsel of other University constituencies. I am establishing two complementary groups with that in mind. One committee, representing students, will be chaired by B.S. graduate and optics doctoral student Alexis Spilman Lanning ’01, and she will serve on the advisory committee. A second committee will represent the staff of our institution and its chair, Medical Center Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Peter Robinson, also will serve on the advisory committee.

And, of course, we must involve alumni and the local community in significant ways. In addition to the strong representation of alumni and Rochester-area residents on the committees mentioned above, we invite suggestions and comments from all alumni and friends via the Presidential Search Web site. There you will find an efficient and easy way of letting us know your thoughts about the kind of president we should be searching for, and about any particular candidates you might recommend. We will also use the site to publish updates about the search as it proceeds.

Right now—early summer—is the time when we can most effectively use your input. This is the wide end of the “funnel,” if you will, when we want to see any and all recommendations of potential candidates. In late summer, and into the fall, we will be winnowing the list of names to a manageable number of highly qualified candidates and will begin meeting with them. If all goes as hoped, next winter will see an announcement of our 10th president.

I urge you to use the Web site to communicate with us; I assure you that every comment will be read and considered, and confidences securely kept. I am happy to report that we will have two wise staff members assisting our efforts. Vice President and General Secretary Paul Burgett ’68E, ’76E, (PhD) will serve as secretary to the Trustees’ Presidential Search Committee, and Associate Provost Lynne Davidson ’01 (PhD) will serve as staff to the University Advisory Committee members.

Above all, we know that the commitment, enthusiasm, and advice of the greater University community—Rochester Review’s readers—will be of great assistance to the committees as they conduct their work. I look forward to your comments and thoughts as we proceed.