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Executive Vice President John Fry has done a lot of things during his tenure at Penn.

In his eight years at the University, Fry has played a key role in University improvement and the revitalization of West Philadelphia. He brought Philly Diner and the Ivy Grille to campus and helped develop and implement the Agenda for Excellence, Penn's recent blueprint for success.

As the chief operating officer of the University, Fry's responsibilities have also extended to all matters relating to Penn's finance, investments, public safety and much more.

And that's just what he's done at Penn. The former management consultant for Coopers and Lybrand received his MBA from New York University's Stern School of Business and his BA in American Civilization from Lafayette College.

In fact, one of the few things that Fry hasn't done over his impressive career span is receive a Ph.D.

As a successful businessman and administrator, Fry has veered away from the academic path, choosing instead to rise up through the ranks by using his skills in management.

Now, as he sits as one of the top candidates for the vacant presidency at the University of Vermont, Fry's achilles heel -- the use of "Mr." , as opposed to "Dr." as his title -- might be the one hurdle preventing him from furthering his path in the administrative rankings.

These days, however, it might not be a problem. Gone are the times when the most significant qualification for running a university was a solid career in the academic sphere.

Now, especially at the larger universities, university presidents must serve more as CEO's and experts in management.

In other words, having a Ph.D is not as necessary as it once was.

"I don't think that the degree is the key -- you either have to be a scholar or have a strong set of intellectual interests," former Penn President Martin Meyerson said. "Our friend Fry is developing a strong set of intellectual interests."

As a doctoral candidate in the history of American higher education, Fry has not abandoned the books, so to speak. He has just found a way to avoid basing his life around them.

And it seems that being a strong academic figure may not be a prerequisite for the position at UVM.

"Our view is that what a university needs, and what our university needs, is a person who has outstanding management and leadership skills," John Evans, vice chairman of UVM's presidential search committee, said.

UVM's current search for a president has been preceded by over a decade of ephemeral leadership. This is its third presidential search since 1989, and between permanent and interim presidents, six people have cycled through this position over the past thirteen years.

After Judith Ramaley, UVM's most recent president, resigned last February under the pressure of a dissatisfied board of trustees, a 20-member search committee vowed to avoid past mistakes that had produced such short-lived leaders.

"The University of Vermont is quite a special university with a long quite fabulous history, but its last ten years haven't been quite so fabulous," committee chairman Bruce Lisman said.

On top of looking into a larger group of applicants, members also emphasized finding people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds -- not just academia. Over the past seven months, the search committee has whittled down the 150 original candidates to four.

In fact, Daniel Fogel, the executive vice chancellor and provost at Louisiana State University, is the only remaining candidate who has a Ph.D. While Steven Poskanzer, the interim president at State University of New York at New Paltz, earned his JD from Harvard, his career has focused more on administration than academics.

If there is anything that distinguishes these finalists from the rest of the pool, it is their qualifications as strong leaders.

"The search committee decided that the difference from where we are and where we'd like to be is a matter of leadership," Lisman said. "We decided that the principal characteristics we were looking for were leadership and management abilities."

"It has to be someone who has had the experience and commitment to higher education -- a person who can appreciate the vision and set the vision for the institution," Evans added.

Evans said that these qualities are far more important than having risen through the ranks of academia.

"I would expect that if it's a person who has less direct academic experience that they would surround themselves with people who would bring that into discussion," Evans said.

But the lack of a career as an academic might cause some problems early on in a presidency.

According to Meyerson, the lack of a Ph.D or a terminal degree in law or medicine could create friction between a university's president and the faculty.

"The real problem is how the faculty react," Meyerson said. "At various institutions, the faculty might think that this is not the kind of person they particularly want."

Yet Meyerson recognized that Fry's assets and experiences in other areas, not primarily academics, might help him earn respect from his fellow administrators.

"What Fry can bring to Vermont is a set of talents that will also recognize the importance of academic and student matters," Meyerson said. "If this comes about, I think that he will be very dependent on the faculty for their judgement on academic affairs, and he'll be very attached to the students."

In the end, it will come down to the weekend of Jan. 26, when UVM's board of trustees will sit down to begin final deliberations over the last four candidates. Only then will it become evident whether a strong academic resume will win over more experience in running an institution.

And based on early sentiments from the search committee, the trustees might end up choosing the latter path.

"There are a number of people with higher degrees who don't have the skills in management and leadership," Evans said. "That person might or might not hold a higher degree."

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