Career connections, diversity commitment, interest in the arts top qualities for potential candidate based upon community input

After hearing from faculty, staff and students, the University of Rhode Island’s Presidential Search Advisory Committee crafted a position profile to guide their search for a new university president.

President David Dooley, who has served at the University since 2009, plans to retire this spring; his term will end on June 30. 

The committee hosted many listening sessions and surveys to gage the community’s wants and needs for a new leader. These included several faculty, staff and student town hall meetings held virtually in mid-October.

According to URI’s Executive Director of External Relations and Communications Kelly Mahoney, URI officially began its search process for a new president on Oct. 30 after the town halls. The search process will be led by executive search firm Isaacson, Miller, who also helped recruit Dooley.

A top priority for students, faculty and staff alike, according to URI Board of Trustees chair, search committee member and alumna Margo Cook, was a new president’s community engagement. Many students reported that a president who could cultivate employer partnerships and career connections with the University was important. Faculty members were interested in a president who would support their research and increase its impact.

“[This means] engagement with students, with faculty, with alums, with the community around us, so someone who really valued that university plays a role in all of those stakeholders’ lives,” Cook said. “And I would say someone who would bring new thinking to the University, the same way that President Dooley really raised the level of our credibility in research, which was something that we didn’t really have before President Dooley came in.”

University branding was something also mentioned in the profile. Cook said that she hopes a new president can help improve the University’s national rankings, which have improved under Dooley, but are not as high as they would like them to be.

Cook also said that many community members felt that the University could do more to prioritize the arts and humanities. Taking this advice, the Search Committee is searching for candidates with an interest in the field, or improving it at URI.

“There’s a strong recognition that the University has achieved really great heights on our research capabilities, particularly within STEM,” Cook said. “And what got raised a number of times was that we also needed to be sure that we were investing in the humanities and investing in the arts and investing in the academic studies that are equally as important to the University around humanities.”

Current events have influenced the campus community’s desires. For example, Cook noticed that many more people said that the new president should prioritize equity, diversity and inclusion than at town halls of previous recruitments.

“I could guarantee you that 11 years ago, it wouldn’t have been the thing that would have come up in all the town halls, whereas [now] it came up in every town hall,” Cook said. “So really understanding what does that mean, from a practical standpoint? And how do we ensure that? For example, how do different students from different backgrounds feel like they are included in the campus? How do we raise the diversity numbers in our faculty? And I think we’ve been on a good trajectory, but there’s definitely a desire to see that improve.”

Other qualities listed on the profile include bolstering the University’s philanthropic resources, ability to interact with students, staff, faculty and alumni and a commitment to maintaining the University’s accomplishments under Dooley, including improved STEM programs and improved retention rates.

Early next year, the Search Committee will narrow the applicant pool to 8-12 applicants to meet. After that, the committee will narrow to 2-5 candidates to interview, who may have public forums with the community. Cook noted, however, that while the University tries to be as transparent as possible regarding the search process, sometimes candidates’ confidentiality needs to be prioritized. Compared to previous years, the search has become less public.

“The reason is that you will very much limit your candidate pool, because those candidates value confidentiality, and their own privacy,” Cook said. “And for them to put their names out publicly means that they would make themselves vulnerable in their current position. So the search is really a balance between trying to gain as much public exposure and knowledge from the community and feedback from the community as to what they want in the candidate.”

The new president is expected to be announced by at least May 2021, according to Mahoney.