Search for new AU president begins
The process of finding the ideal candidate to fill Augustana President Rob Oliver’s shoes began Sept. 29 in Siverson Lounge.
Augustana’s Board of Trustees hired Witt/Kieffer, a national executive search firm, to oversee the process of hiring Augustana’s new president.
“Historically we’ve used search firms because we want to cast a wide net,” Becky Blue, chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, said. “And there’s no way for us here to do all the legwork to find who’s available for the position. We interviewed other firms and did a lot of study, and we felt like [Witt/Kieffer] had the far-reaching ability to really look across the country.”
Dennis Barden and Ann Yates are the two Witt/Kieffer consultants working for Augustana. They spent two days on campus last week, learning about Augustana’s values and goals by listening to students and faculty.
All the information gathered will be compiled into what Witt/Kieffer calls a “leadership portfolio.” The portfolio will be used as a guideline when searching for and interviewing candidates.
Barden and Yates officially started the search process with a conversation with several Augustana students last Thursday.
“Our primary goal in being here is really to listen to you” Barden told the students. “We really want to hear you on behalf of the students talk a little bit about who you hope will be your next president. Basically, we’re here to get our marching orders from you. You are our first meeting. You get to set the tone of the college for us. We’re learning the college through you.”
In the hour-long meeting, the students expressed what they loved about Augustana, where they would like to see the university go in the future and who they would like to see lead as president. Community, liberal arts, finance, religion and growth were also key discussion topics.
“From a student’s perspective, what I would hope the next president would do would be entirely student focused—I think that’s what drives growth,” Mason VanEssen, Augustana Student Association president, said. “If we’re primed for continued growth, we’re going to need to adjust in order to accommodate larger, more diverse classes. And living areas, dormitories, activity spaces—that’s going to need to be considered also.”
Regarding Augustana’s size, Blue asked the question, “How big would be too big?”
“I think that Augustana is an extremely special institution that does not need to try to be the biggest college,” senior Adam Guthmiller said. “It doesn’t need to try to be bigger than everyone else, but I do think it has to keep pursuing liberal arts and continuing in that direction.”
Community was a recurring theme of the meeting. Students felt the next president should be a known and approachable presence on campus.
“I think that community is one of our strongest attributes,” VanEssen said. “Rob Oliver has fully ingrained himself in the Augie community. He is 110 percent Augustana. And so I would expect that the next president would be willing to completely dive into the Augustana community and culture too. I think that that’s a necessity in order to succeed here.”
As a church-affiliated school, the next President is required to be a member of the Lutheran church. The challenge of balancing Lutheran tradition while recognizing religious diversity was discussed.
“I feel that the next President should be as open as Rob Oliver is,” senior Alejandro Garcia said. “Christianity is one of our core values, but we also have a lot of students that are not Christian.”
The issue of whether Augustana’s funds should be directed towards students or new facilities was also discussed.
“We invest quite a bit of our money into our students by giving financial aid,” VanEssen said. “We support students and we offer very generous aid packages which help students come to Augustana compared to other private institutions. So fundraising is going to have to be a key component for the next President.”
Last Friday, Barden and Yates met with faculty and Oliver to share similar conversations. The two will now spend the coming months recruiting and interviewing.
Periodic updates on the search’s progress will be posted to Augustana’s website. Barden and Yates hope to find Augustana’s next president by mid-March.