How to Replace an Ousted President-Designate

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Search Experts Urge Gallaudet U. to Move Cautiously in Replacing Ousted President-Designate
By BURTON BOLLAG
from: Chronicle of Higher Education

People with experience in presidential searches for
higher-education institutions said on Monday that
after the traumatic events of the last few weeks at
Gallaudet University, culminating in the revocation of
the appointment of the person picked as its next
president, the university should take a breather.

“The worst thing would be to jump right in and start a
new presidential search,” said Shelly Weiss Storbeck,
managing director and vice president of Edward W.
Kelley & Partners, an executive-search firm.

The various constituents of the campus community
should step back, she said, let tempers cool, and
“think about what’s good for the institution,” the
country’s only university for deaf and hard-of-hearing
students. The question now, she added, is what kind of
leader the Board of Trustees wants as it begins to
think about a new replacement for its long-serving
president, I. King Jordan, who is scheduled to step
down on December 31. Last May the board named Jane K.
Fernandes, who was then the university’s provost, to
assume the presidency in January, but it terminated
that appointment on Sunday after several weeks of
intense protest by students and opposition from
faculty members and alumni.

Ms. Fernandes remains a faculty member of Gallaudet,
but several observers speculated that she might opt to
take a sabbatical leave to get away for a while from
the highly charged atmosphere on the campus.

“The protests clarified what the campus wants,” said
Ms. Storbeck, referring to protesters’ calls for a
president who, in their eyes, would be a better
speaker for the whole American deaf community and
would consult others more in decision making. “But
it’s not clear what the board is looking for,” she
said.

The board’s chair, Brenda Jo Brueggemann, would not
speculate on Monday about how it would resume the
search, indicating only that the board would “be
meeting again very soon” to begin planning for the
future. Ms. Brueggemann, an associate professor of
English at Ohio State University and a vocal supporter
of Ms. Fernandes, added that the board would “probably
appoint an interim president” as a first step.

Whenever the search is restarted, said Raymond D.
Cotton, a lawyer specializing in contracts and
compensation for college presidents, the board members
will have a difficult balancing act to pull off. “They
need to listen more carefully to students and faculty
members and take their feelings into consideration,”
he said.

But the board must retain authority over the new
search, he said, even though students and faculty
members may now feel that they can control it. The
trustees “shouldn’t give that responsibility away to
anyone,” he counseled.

Gallaudet could be helped by the same executive-search
firm that helped it choose Ms. Fernandes as a finalist
for the presidency, but this time it would work free.
Academic Search Consultation Service, which the
university retained last year, when it began to look
for someone to replace Mr. Jordan, is ready to talk
about getting back to work “for expenses only,” said
Jamie P. Ferrare, the firm’s president.

Such an arrangement is common when an executive chosen
with the help of a search firm does not serve out a
full year.

Mr. Ferrare became head of the company only in July
and was not involved in the earlier search. But like
other experts contacted by The Chronicle, he
speculated that the tumultuous events that ended with
Ms. Fernandes’s ouster could deter some new
candidates, while encouraging others.

“There may be people out there who may see this as an
opportunity, who want to help heal the situation,” he
said. “Other people may say, I don’t want to touch
that.”

No matter who is eventually chosen to lead Gallaudet,
the university must still reach agreement on
compensation with Ms. Fernandes. Since she appears to
have had her appointment terminated without cause,
said Mr. Cotton, the university would have to
negotiate a compensation package with her. Typically,
he said, that would involve the payment of at least
one year’s salary as president. Mr. Jordan received
total compensation of nearly $578,000 in the 2003-4
academic year, according to the university’s tax
filings.

Given that Ms. Fernandes appears to have done nothing
wrong, added Mr. Cotton, “the board ought to be
generous with her.”

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