The University of Wisconsin System presidential search committee will consider applicants coming from a non-academic background, according to Wisconsin State Journal reporting

Former UW System President Ray Cross retired in October, and the new committee was established soon after to fill his position. UW-Madison faculty members passed a resolution opposing the search committee in December, because it doesn’t include any academic staff or faculty. 

The State Journal said on a conference phone call that the search committee confirmed the applicants must have “at least 10 years of experience in a ‘significant senior executive position’ and an understanding of public higher education,” but that specific language doesn’t require them to have higher education experience. 

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According to the State Journal, on the call UW Board of Regents Chair Andrew Peterson said many groups feel there’s only one way to proceed through the hiring process — considering candidates with a higher education background — but making the position language too precise could “agitate multiple constituencies.”

In December, The Herald spoke to former Academic Staff Assembly Chair Jenny Dahlberg about the search committee. Dahlberg expressed concern about a pool of non-academic applicants, since the job entails understanding and advocating for students, faculty and staff interests.  

“My concern is that we have a group of Regents and a former Regent on that committee who feel that the president of UW system doesn’t need to have an academic background,” Dahlberg said. “How is that person going to succeed in an academic environment if they’ve never once been in it?”

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Dahlberg said hiring an applicant with a business background who doesn’t understand the Wisconsin Idea might lead to other core purposes of the institution, like research, outreach and community relations falling to the wayside. 

Dahlberg said a non-academic hire might not understand the importance of certain outreach programs which support the Wisconsin Idea. 

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“How are they going to make decisions?” Dahlberg said. “They are going to cut programs that are going to be supportive of those issues rather than continuing to maintain that connection to the rest of the state. That’s my concern.”

In December, The Herald received a statement from Peterson about the makeup of the search committee. Peterson said it’s important to include diverse interests on the committee, including non-academic interests.

Peterson said he’s confident in the committee’s ability to advocate for students, faculty and academic staff.

“We need a small, nimble and dedicated committee comprised of board and academic leadership that represents diverse interests,” Peterson said. “Central to that effort is to actively account for the interests and concerns of students, faculty and staff. Those individuals, including Regents, Chancellors, a Provost and a student Regent, have the interests of the UW System serving as their guide to the process.”

Campus News Associate Editor Savannah Kind contributed reporting to this story.