Report of the Board of Regents Task Group on the Presidential Search

University of Hawaiʻi
Carolyn Tanaka, (808) 956-9803
Mia Noguchi, (808) 956-9095
External Affairs & University Relations
Posted: Feb 17, 2006

The Task Group on the Presidential Search is providing this report and a recommendation to the Board of Regents of the University of Hawaiʻi.

In September 2005, the BOR raised the issue of asking Interim President David McClain to consider appointment for an extended period of time after he received an outstanding rating by unanimous vote of the BOR at his one-year review. After an initial conversation, Interim President McClain counseled us to proceed with the search because he believed a national search was the best practice for the selection of a president. In late November 2005, Interim President McClain officially announced that he would not be a candidate in the search, noting that in his view a full term as president involves at least a seven-year commitment, one which he and his wife, Wendie, are not prepared to make. His statement read, "Wendie and I have been grateful for the opportunity to lead UH, and have found the experience to be very fulfilling. Still, there are other goals we‘d like to try to achieve, some of a personal nature and some of which are professional and community-based." He went on to state, "if I were to be chosen as the UH president, it‘s likely that I‘d only serve until 2009."

The suggestion that we had to do a national search was consistent with advice that former BOR Chair Patricia Lee received after seeking counsel from some national experts, as well as our accreditors, immediately after the termination of the former president nearly two years ago.

In mid-December 2005 the BOR office sent out a request for proposals to executive search firms specializing in high-level searches for colleges and universities. We received proposals from most of the top firms that conduct nationwide searches of this type.

The Task Group on the Presidential Search immediately began reviewing the credentials and proposals of the search firms that responded to our RFP. In early January, the task group selected two highly qualified national firms as our short list and scheduled interviews with them. These interviews were conducted in Honolulu in mid-January on separate days. The task group spent approximately six hours with each firm. These discussions were intense, enlightening and particularly helpful in further defining the range of roles and responsibilities of system presidents. Each firm also spent time separately with Interim President McClain to gain his perspective on the role of the system president. It should be noted that, according to these search firms, the job description for system presidents ranges from a coordinating executive with virtually no campus oversight to the situation we have in Hawaiʻi that of a statewide leader on all higher-education issues whose direct reports include all of the chancellors of campuses in the system.

After interviewing these two firms, the task group identified two tracks to follow simultaneously. We asked the BOR office to begin checking references for the two search firms we had interviewed, and we developed a short list of individuals whose counsel we wanted on the credentials of both search firms and, more importantly, on the roles and responsibilities of system presidents nationally. The individuals whose advice we sought included people who know the University of Hawaiʻi and/or have a credible comprehensive perspective on the role of the system presidents, such as Richard T. "Tom" Ingram, just-retired president of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and Ray Cotton, a nationally recognized attorney specializing in higher-education issues. The task group conducted lengthy teleconferences with each of these individuals during the last week of January and first week of February.

From these discussions we gained some new information—

  • There is no "best practice" method for selecting a system president because there are so many versions of the position, each tailored to the circumstances and priorities of a particular set of higher-education institutions.

  • System presidents are quite different, in all of these versions, from campus chancellors who have direct campus leadership roles and responsibilities.

  • It is extraordinarily challenging to find outstanding system presidents, because they often combine business savvy and leadership with strong academic credentials. In other words, you don‘t look for people like these only in the upper echelons of academia.

  • Finally, all of the people we spoke with, including the search firms, asked us why we weren‘t trying to convince David McClain to remain on the job. When we explained that we wanted to do things properly and we had been advised that a search was the only way to do that, we got some interesting feedback, including the following:

    • "Your chances of finding another system president who you would rate ʻoutstanding‘ are less than 50 percent."

    • "Someone who has been doing the job extremely well for almost two years should not have to participate in a cattle call to keep the job; the BOR should just appoint him."

    • "If I were in your shoes, I would not proceed with a search until I knew the door was absolutely nailed shut with David McClain."

    • "No matter who tells you what to do, you have to do what is best for your university system and follow your instincts."

Subsequently, the task group members discussed their perspectives and the fact that each of us, if not everyone on the BOR, has heard consistently from constituencies inside and outside the University of Hawaiʻi that somehow we should find a way to convince David McClain to stay on the job. We talked about the fact that Interim President McClain has had solid and consistent support from the BOR since he became interim president. We talked about the momentum and progress the University of Hawaiʻi has achieved under Interim President McClain‘s leadership during the past year and a half. We talked about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead, including the university‘s centennial celebration and fundraising campaign and a plethora of academic and development issues. We talked about the leadership needed at the system level as the university searches for candidates to fill many other key positions.

The task group concluded by asking Kitty Lagareta and Al Landon to meet with David McClain to discuss some of the new information the task group had acquired in its research and to see if the door was indeed "nailed shut."

On Friday, February 10, Kitty Lagareta and David Iha, secretary to the board, conducted teleconferences with Ralph Wolff of the Western Assocaiton of Schools and Colleges and Barbara Beno of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. The purpose of these conversations was to let our accreditors know that the task group was planning to recommend to the Board of Regents that David McClain be appointed president of the University of Hawaiʻi. Both Ralph Wolff and Barbara Beno expressed their full support and endorsement of this plan.

With all of this in mind, the Task Group on the Presidential Search officially recommends to the BOR that it suspend the national search for the university president. The task group further recommends that the BOR appoint two individuals, BOR Chair Kitty Lagareta and task group member and Regent Al Landon, to offer David McClain an appointment as president of the University of Hawaiʻi and to negotiate mutually acceptable terms and conditions.