The new KSU presidential search committee chair


Shawn Riley, the presidential search committee chair, during an interview with KentWired Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019.

Laina Yost

Editor’s note: Some changes have been made to the transcript for clarity.

KentWired: How did you feel when you were selected to be the presidential search committee chair?

Shawn Riley: I was honored quite frankly. I was pleasantly surprised by the request and honored that I was asked to do it by (President Beverly Warren) and by our board chair. So, that was my initial reaction. Once I got over that, I realized that it’s quite a task. I’ve done presidential searches for other organizations but never at this level, so I was slightly intimidated by it. Actually, I am still slightly intimidated by the task.

KW: What is your role as the search chair?

SR: My role is to bring the various constituencies at the university together, represented by various people, to achieve the ultimate result, which is to find the best president we can to replace Bev.

KW: When you think of the next president, what are you thinking of? What type of person do you see leading Kent State?

SR: We’ve identified a series of qualifications and characteristics that we’re looking for. That is a result of a very inclusive process, as you probably know. We reached out to a number of groups at the university: the trustees, the faculty, the administration, student groups, student representatives and solicited views as well through an online process. We took all of that and put it together and ranked what we thought were the most important qualifications and you’ll see right at the very top: Student first. We want somebody that can embrace that concept and follow through on it because it’s worked so well for the university as Bev has been president.

KW: What were some of the things you took away from your conversations with people, including the two public forums?

SR: Passion. Every group that we met with had their own interest, which didn’t surprise me. The faculty members had particular interests. The administration had particular interests. The Faculty Senate, because of their role, had certain things that were important to them and then, of course, the student groups. That part didn’t surprise me. The degree of passion was a very nice surprise. People really want to see this process succeed. They have different ideas about how we should go about doing that, but everybody is passionate about the result and what they’re looking for.

KW: How do you feel about the representation of the search committee?

SR: I’m pretty happy with the makeup of the search committee. I think we did a pretty good job. We thought about it and were very deliberate in the invitations we sent out. And we had, I think, some people that were disappointed that they weren’t on the search committee, but the people that we’ve asked to serve and have agreed to serve have been rather diligent about the process. I think it’s a very good makeup of people. It represents the diversity of the Kent State University community. I think almost every group you could point to is represented in some way.

KW: What has your conversations with them looked like?

SR: I would say passion continues to be with the one of the key characteristics I see. It’s from the trustees, to the administration, to the faculty representatives and the two student representatives. Everybody is committed to seeing us succeed and prepared to fulfill the role that they’ve assumed to make that happen. We’re at the front end, so I’m sure there’s going to be some group dynamics here that I think is going to be very positive when we see some prospects and are able to meet with them.

KW: Social media question: How were the students selected, and how much of a voice do they have in the committee?

SR: The student government at the graduate and undergraduate level selected the representatives, and we extended the invitation. They’ll have an equal voice as everybody else. I intend to make sure that every one of those representatives has the chance to speak his or her mind.

KW: That’s a lot of different voices at the table.

SR: I think that’s probably one of the positive aspects of the makeup the committee, and the process we’re going through. We’re going to have a variety of voices looking to be heard. We intend to listen to them, recognizing that we’re going to have to make some decisions in the process, but give everybody a chance to make their case about what’s the most important criteria we should be looking for. I suspect that at some point I’m going to make my voice heard and then I may revise it slightly when I hear a more compelling argument.

KW: Will finalists selected for the position be publicly brought to campus?

SR: Here’s what I can tell you: I think everybody at the university, including me, wants to end up with the best possible president we can. We’re going to run a process that gets to that result. I think it’s a little premature to decide all the parameters of the process. The search committee hasn’t even really talked about that. We’ve been advised about prior searches and what was done. We’ve been advised about the requirements of Ohio law and university policy. We’re still in the early stages of the search process, so I think there’s more to come on that. This committee will comply with Ohio law and this committee will comply with university policy. Beyond that, I think it’s premature.

KW: We often hear students say they just want Bev back.

SR: I jokingly said to (Bev), “I find my task impossible because having found someone who can walk on water, I have to find someone who can convert water into wine.”

I think we have to be careful about that thought because if we do this right, I think we’ll end up with a really good president and somebody who will realize how great a university this is. We don’t want to create a tone where this person says, “Maybe I can’t come because I’ll never be able to match up to that.” We do have to be a little bit careful about that. Bev did a fantastic job, and she’ll be recognized for that. But we have to focus on the future.

KW: Do you want a president who will continue what President Warren started or someone who will forge a new path?

SR: The university (is) on a really good path right now with the various programs that we have, including the most recent (10-year) facilities plan. The candidate we’re looking for should not come with the expectation of completely rewriting what’s been written and what’s been started. But rather to be in a position to continue those projects but maybe putting his or her own stamp on it and maybe identifying different ways for us to accomplish the same goals.

KW: Looking at some of the trends in higher education, will you be talking to the candidates about how they would handle that at Kent State?

SR: We want a candidate, whether he or she is part of academia today or not, who understands the challenges associated with higher education generally and a public university in Northeast Ohio specifically and is prepared to address those.

KW: What’s next?

SR: We’re likely to start receiving indications from people that they might be interested. We’ll start receiving direct applications from people and (Russell Reynolds) will reach out to people they’re aware of that they think might be a good match and see if they’re interested. … The only hard date at the moment is June 30. We’d like to have someone in place by then.

Laina Yost is a senior reporter. Contact her at [email protected]