Q&A with John Ferraro, chair of the presidential search committee

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Q&A with John Ferraro, chair of the presidential search committee

John Ferrero, chair of the presidential search committee.

John Ferrero, chair of the presidential search committee.

John Ferrero, chair of the presidential search committee.

John Ferrero, chair of the presidential search committee.

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Marquette Tribune: For the first time in Marquette’s history, the presidential search committee includes a dean and a faculty member. What is the importance of having them on the committee?

John Ferraro: “It will change the search committee; it will make it better. We have a sitting dean, Bill Cullinan, and also we have Patricia Cervenka on the faculty of the Law School. And already I can see, in fact, during the listening sessions today they both were with me with the different groups and it adds really a great perspective. For us to do a good job we need to make sure we listen to all of our stakeholders, and there is not one stakeholder group that should be above the others so the faculty are important, the deans, obviously the students.”

MT: Are there any specific qualities you are looking for in the 24th president of Marquette that may have not been seen in past presidents?

JF: “Well no one comes with everything; they don’t come in one package … What we are doing with the listening sessions is going through the attributes: the personal, the leadership, the academic, the experience attributes and what are most important in the next president. ‘Course we went through this in 2010, so we started with that list, but we aren’t taking for granted that that list is fit for purpose today. Part of these listening sessions is to make sure we are listening to the community at large as to what are the most important things.”

MT: Have you found that there is one quality or perhaps a group of qualities that are more important then others?

JF: “Well it is always hard to single out the most important quality. There are a lot of givens that you have to have in a leader. On the personal side, leadership characteristics are important … For me, one of the most important – absolutely, if not at the top of the list for me, personally – is making sure that leader has the Jesuit mission and Catholic identity in the DNA of the person.”

MT: The Marquette bylaws were changed in 2011 to allow Marquette to have a lay president instead of a Jesuit. How much are you considering having a lay president instead of a Jesuit like Marquette has had with its past 23 presidents?

JF: “The Jesuit mission, the ability to lead a religious institution, the Catholic identity has to be in the DNA of the president whether they are Jesuit or lay – that will not change, cannot change. It is what we hold very dear to ourselves here at Marquette. We are definitely considering the best man or woman to be the 24th president of Marquette University. The world has changed and the Jesuit pool has changed and dwindled and so many of the Jesuit universities have lay presidents so it is a function of where we are in the world.”

MT: At the end of October, interim president Father Wild changed the structure of governance at Marquette to “strong provost.” What do you think was the purpose of this?

JF: “For me, we are looking at both sitting presidents and also people that have the characteristics and leadership capabilities that could be a president today. And obviously when you are looking at non-sitting presidents you would look at provost, deans and other people who have led complex entities like Marquette, religious institutions and otherwise. So there is a broad pool out there. Getting the right person for Marquette at this time with the attributes that are coming out at the top of the list during the listening sessions I suspect will narrow the pool – the broad pool down to some really good candidates.”

MT: Does it make the presidential position more attractive to candidates?

JF: “I think it will help. I mean clearly it is the importance of the academic side of the institution. But we also want leaders across no matter where they sit on the academic cabinet. But having a strong provost to help drive the academic side is very important.”

MT: In 2010, it took the presidential search committee more than a year to find Father Pilarz. However, this year’s presidential search committee hopes to have the next president by August 2014. How do you think this shortened time period will affect the search?

JF: “The important thing is that we get the right president … We have some good help; we hired a search firm: Witt/Keiffer. Dennis Barden is our lead; he is experienced in doing university searches, so that has been tremendous in moving through the process affectively. (In) the listening sessions after today, we will be halfway through that, and we have been going through them in earnest. We have started to get feedback on potential candidates.

We want to cast the net wide. So for instance, on the president search website we ask people to give us their thoughts on what kind of person they are looking for, and we are very open to suggestions. We will process them with the help of our search firm. I think it is doable.

It is an aggressive timeline, but I think it is doable if we stay diligent. But at the end of the day we can’t sacrifice the timing to get the right person. But I believe that persistence and time, with the help of the search firm, will allow us to get this thing done because that is our objective.”

MT: Father Pilarz was only in the presidential position for a little over a year. How long would the search committee like to see the next president in office?

JF: “The term of office for the president isn’t as important as whether the president leaves the institution better than he or she inherited it. That is the most important thing. Naturally, the average term of presidency in higher education is around seven or eight years. It is a blessing to have someone in the role longer. But what’s most important is you don’t want someone in the role a long time if they aren’t leading and adding to the institution, leaving it better then they inherited it.”

MT: The length of university presidencies is decreasing nationally. The average college president term lasted 8.5 years in 2006 and decreased to 7 years in 2011. How are you catering the search process to find a president that will be around for the long haul?

JF: “We aren’t trying to extend it. So again, I think we’ll look at a candidate and obviously one of the facts that will be important to us is their track record and their ability to lead the institution for a long time. But again, the most important thing is that we get a competent, outstanding leader (who) fits Marquette and (who) embodies the Jesuit identities and the Catholic mission we have here. (Who) can relate to all the various stakeholders and (who) can lead Marquette better and can leave Marquette better then she or he inherited it.

If that’s seven years that’s terrific, if that is what the person can do and wants to do. If that’s 10 years then that is terrific. If it is three years and they bring us forward, we would rather longer, but again things change and people change and it is a match with the person’s ambitions and desires and the needs of the university.”

MT: The role of college presidents is evolving and many say it is becoming more demanding, especially with financial matters. Do you think the job has changed over the years and if so, how has the presidential search changed, respectively?

JF: “Well Marquette and higher education is becoming more challenging, more complex, right? So it is changing, the world is changing. It is much faster pace (with) more challenges. And Marquette is a complex institution. So, yes the demands of the job are great. And one of the key things I think, even in the strong provost (model), is to recognize that no one person can do everything. So it is the team they have around them that is also important. And that is one of the things we will look at – the leadership capabilities and characteristics … their style is inclusive, collaborative, teaming, transparency – those are some of the things we are hearing loud and clear during the listening sessions. And I would agree. That is something we are looking for in our next leader.”

The provost and dean of the College of Business positions are vacant. After being chosen, will the new president be selecting these positions?

“I think the provost search has been put on hold because we think it is important that the next president has a large voice in selecting the provost. We are working through that. Obviously what we don’t want to do is skip a beat here in this intervening period.

And Father Wild is terrific. We all owe Father Wild a debt in coming back and stepping in. We are very fortunate that he is here to give us that bridge between Father Scott and the 24th president.

(With) the provost position being such an important position in the university, it is important to put that search on hold. As you know, when we do a search for any senior position, like a dean or a provost, we have a selection committee and the president is heavily involved.”

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