The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

Candidates and sources close to the committee talk about the confidential process. Incoming Provost Robert Barchi has earned high marks from members of the provost search committee and University administrators, but the exhaustive 11-month process through which the noted Medical School faculty member was chosen has drawn decidedly mixed reviews from those involved. Though outgoing Wharton School Dean Thomas Gerrity, the chairperson of the 16-member search committee, has refused to speak publicly on the process of selecting a new provost outside of a statement published in last week's Almanac, a number of sources close to the committee and candidates themselves have commented on the often-collegial, sometimes-puzzling and frequently disheartening process of finding a permanent replacement for Stanley Chodorow. The committee was first brought together in January. Over the ensuing months, in conjunction with an executive search firm, the committee developed an exhaustive list of internal and external candidates. Committee members discussed the qualifications of interested candidates and brought in a number of them for interviews last spring. They then submitted a "short list" of four external candidates to University President Judith Rodin, according to sources close to the committee. Over the summer, one of the four candidates withdrew and the others were rejected. Rodin asked the committee to reconvene in September and focus on internal candidates, the same sources said. From that point on, the committee would interview prospects and pass on the names of those they deemed good choices directly to the President's Office. Several top administrators then interviewed those candidates, according to Executive Vice President John Fry and University of Pennsylvania Health System Chief Executive Officer and Medical School Dean William Kelley, who both interviewed candidates. Heidrick's 'Struggles' The most consistent criticism was directed at Heidrick & Struggles, the Chicago-based executive search firm that was hired to aid the University at the cost of several tens of thousands of dollars, in identifying and evaluating candidates for the position. The firm -- which helped to identify Fry during the University's last EVP search in 1995 -- was represented by Bill Bowen, who said in October that "anybody that applies or has been nominated [for the position], we've interacted with." Confidential search committee documents obtained by The Daily Pennsylvanian indicate that Heidrick & Struggles was responsible for nominating nearly three dozen external candidates out of the 165 total, including five of the nine given a grade-"A" ranking in a committee document dated May 6. But sources close to the committee complained that Bowen, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, had minimal interaction with the committee and that the quality of the candidates he brought before the committee diminished as the search lagged on. Even Rodin -- who sources close to the committee said interacted primarily only with Gerrity, and not the committee-at-large -- recognized discontent with Bowen's work. "There were many on the committee who felt that his help was not as useful as they would have liked," she said. "There were those who wanted to see his involvement reduced over the course of the semester." One candidate -- University of Chicago Sociology Department Chairperson Edward Laumann -- also criticized his handling by the headhunting firm. A dean at Chicago for a decade and provost for nearly two years, Laumann noted that he had been contacted by a Heidrick operative and encouraged to interview for the job, but was not well prepared for what he would find in West Philadelphia. "I had not really much been informed about what had been the issues [of academics at Penn]," he said. The Nominees Are? In his statement in the Almanac, the University's journal-of-record, Gerrity noted that the committee solicited nominations from all 12 of the University's deans and from leading academics from around the country. Indeed, many of the deans -- including Gerrity, School of Arts and Sciences Dean Samuel Preston, Graduate School of Fine Arts Dean Gary Hack and Kelley -- nominated candidates for the position. In addition, top administrators from other schools, such as Stanford University Provost Condoleezza Rice, University of Chicago Provost Geoffrey Stone and University of California at Los Angeles Vice Chancellor Claudia Mitchell-Kernan -- herself listed as a top candidate by an internal committee memorandum -- advised the committee on potential successors to Chodorow, the documents indicated. Even Fry was involved, nominating Columbia University Vice Provost for Research Michael Crow, an A-list candidate known for his strong strategic planning skills, according to confidential committee documents. Fry refused to comment on his nomination of Crow. Though an October 1 memo indicated that many top internal candidates -- Barchi included -- were nominated from the president's office, Rodin said that she did not direct the committee to consider specific nominees. "What I floated was concepts, rather than saying 'here's an individual'," she explained. Inside the Interview Behind the closed doors of the committee room, reaction to how the faculty- and student-composed search committee interacted among themselves and with the candidates during interviews was largely positive from both sources familiar with the committee's operations and the candidates themselves. Though multiple sources close to the committee described the process of evaluating such large numbers of candidates as "frustrating," they also indicated that members of the search committee got along very well with each other. "The tone was very collegial," one source said. "I think Gerrity did a tremendous job with what he was given." Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department Chairperson Brian Strom, one of the final candidates considered shortly before Barchi was named, said that he was extremely impressed with his treatment by the committee in his first provost-level interview. "The committee was terrific," he said, adding that he found the questions they asked about leadership and consensus-building to be very intriguing. "I very much enjoyed it.? I was much more receptive to this than I ever would have expected me to be." And Strom agreed that Barchi, a fellow department head of his in the Medical School, was a good choice. "Bob has been looking for this kind of job for a long time," he said. "[He] is a terrific person, a terrific choice in this position." Looking Back Many people who have had experience with similar searches in the past said that it is difficult to really judge how well a process ran by comparing it to other searches. Some notable deviations from precedent do exist. A source familiar with the 1980s Penn provost searches that yielded Thomas Ehrlich in 1981 and Michael Aiken in 1987 indicated that then-University President Sheldon Hackney was heavily involved talking with the committee when it came to choosing a final candidate. Conversely, Rodin notified the committee members of Barchi's selection by letter only shortly before the announcement, several sources complained. But Economics Professor Andrew Postlewaite, who chaired the search committee that yielded Chodorow in 1994, said that "the process is not fixed and changes depending on the circumstances, so it's not easy to answer questions with [a] simple 'yes' or 'no'." And Laumann, who said he was surprised by the size of the 16-member interviewing committee and the early emphasis on external candidates, said that things just might work differently around here. "I think that every university, particularly one as old as Penn, has its own traditions," he said. Daily Pennsylvanian editors Yochi Dreazen and Michael Mugmon and staff writer Ben Geldon contributed to this article.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.