What is Dakota Wesleyan University searching for in its next president?
Search firm hired, candidate pool growing
Even with the arrival of summer break, it’s a busy time on campus for leaders at Dakota Wesleyan University.
They have homework as they search for the 21st president of the university following the departure of Amy Novak, who in February announced she was leaving the school to take up the president position at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa.
It’s a considerable process finding someone to lead a school like DWU, said Theresa Kriese, executive vice president and interim president for DWU. She's also a member of the presidential search committee. But in the end it’s a matter of finding the right fit between the candidate and the school, which she said has positioned itself well in recent years to move into the future of higher education.
“The university is well-positioned. We have a confident financial position, and we had a previous leader who was innovative and we’re starting to go down some innovative roads already. We’re looking for someone to build on that,” Kriese said. “Higher education is going to change. We’re looking for someone who understands that that landscape is changing.”
The search committee — an 11-member team consisting of DWU alumni, administrators, faculty and students — began with the hiring of a professional search firm AGP Search back in March. That was a necessary first step to help ensure a high number of interested quality candidates could be assembled.
The firm has resources to conduct such a search and specializes in the field of higher education. It has the reach to search across the country as well as an understanding of the Midwest social and academic culture, which Kriese said is important in finding a candidate that would mesh well with DWU and the community.
“They search for administrative positions in higher education, not just presidents. They also have a regional feel. They understand the South Dakota region,” Kriese said. “The national search gives us national exposure, but having them understand the culture of our region is important.”
The committee also assembled a 21-page document outlining the specifics of what the school is looking for in its next leader. Including profiles on the school itself, its history and some of its future goals, the document is not only a way for the public to see how the search process works, but also a way for candidates to get a quick feel for the school and help them decide if they want to continue their career at DWU.
“(The document) has been very well done and gives a lot of important information to people,” said Doug Powers, chairman of the DWU board of trustees and another member of the search committee. “We thought it was good for everybody, but it’s really good for the candidates. They don’t have to ask a lot of questions.”
The document lists characteristics of a successful candidate as one that will:
Strengthen and expand the university’s successful partnerships with regional businesses and industries.
Build on the university’s reputation as a leader in higher education innovation in support of the region it serves.
Understand and embrace a commitment to Christian higher education in the United Methodist tradition and demonstrate a personal commitment to social justice and to living a life in service to others.
Demonstrate a record of successfully building inclusive cultures with diverse constituents.
Possess significant leadership and managerial experience, excellent fiscal management skills, and the ability to be a productive advocate for the institution, particularly in regard to potential philanthropic investors.
A background in higher education is certainly a plus, Kriese said, but the committee is casting its nets far and wide and would consider strong candidates from other environments, such as the business world, if they thought it would be a good fit.
“I would say the candidate has to understand higher education, much like the leader at a hospital has to understand medicine, even if they aren’t necessarily a doctor. It doesn’t mean a person can’t come from the business world and be successful,” Kriese said. “There used to be a direct path to becoming a university president — from teacher, to dean, to provost, to president. That isn’t necessarily true anymore.”
A strong connection to the faith-based aspect of the school is an important factor for candidates to embrace, as well.
“We are a faith-based institution, and they have to embrace that,” Kriese said.
The document also allows the school to pitch itself to potential candidates, outlining its academic programs, campus and history. Kriese said whoever takes over as the next president of the university will find a school on strong footing and ready to take the next steps toward the future of higher education.
“We are poised to move the university forward."
— Theresa Kriese, executive vice president and interim president of Dakota Wesleyan University
“We are poised to move the university forward,” Kriese said. “We are agile in ways that other institutions are not. We have a staff and faculty that have been living under a leadership of innovation and movement. We have done things much faster than our counterparts, and higher education is known for how slow it moves.”
The next few months will be a quiet period for the search committee as the search firm continues to compile candidates for consideration. When the committee begins reviewing those candidates, the process of whittling them down to a small handful will begin. With the summer months being prime vacation time for many in higher education, the committee expects to have that work underway sometime in August or September. Later in the year, they hope to arrange campus visits for the top selections.
Kriese declined to say how many candidates had been identified or the number of inquiries the school has received about the position, but said discussions between the committee and the search firm suggest they are hearing from qualified candidates.
“I feel like we’re heading in the right direction,” Kriese said.
Once the committee has its finalists, the process will include taking input from school and community constituents before a final decision is made.
The search will take as long as it takes, she said. In the end, the committee is more interested in finding the right candidate for the job than finding one quickly. If that takes a short time, great. If it takes a long time, it is time well spent to secure a leader who can meet the needs of DWU now and into the future.
“I think I can speak for the committee, for us, a successful search will be finding the right person for the job. The right fit,” Kriese said. “We’re all committed to the fact that it may take longer or shorter, but we don’t want to rush anything important to make sure we have the right candidate.”