The University of Wisconsin System is continuing its search for a new president after a failed attempt last year. This time, a new executive search firm will be initiating the process of recruitment.
The company, an executive search firm called WittKieffer, is based in Oak Brook, Illinois and has 50 years of experience in finding the best candidates for successful leadership, according to the WittKieffer website.
The UW System hired WittKieffer this summer for a total of $225,000 plus expenses to assist in the search for competent presidential candidates, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
In an email statement to The Herald, UW System Media Relations Director Mark Pitsch said he is confident in the Board of Regents’ decision to hire WittKieffer.
“WittKieffer has five decades of experience, including assisting in hundreds of executive-level searches in higher education,” Pitsch said. “Recently, they helped the Board of Regents select the excellent chancellors at UW-Green Bay and UW-Stevens Point. WittKieffer has the Board’s trust and confidence.”
But the decision to hire WittKeiffer is controversial. Oregon State University and East Carolina University all had problems working with the firm, according to WSJ.
Additionally, during his time at Louisiana State University, former president F. King Alexander was hired by the firm and mishandled cases of both gender-based and physical violence and played a role in covering up sports scandals, according to Louisiana Illuminator.
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WittKieffer also aided in the hiring of Cecil Staton at East Carolina University during April 2016. Less than two years after Staton was hired, WittKeiffer refunded the university $110,000 for reports of inaccurate salary information reported by Staton, according to a Business North Caroline report. Following this incident, university system leaders blocked any future business with WittKieffer.
But WittKieffer is known for picking nontraditional candidates, according to the company website. This could be important for the UW System’s new president search, as their last attempt only had five women applicants and three self-identified minorities, according to WSJ.
University Committee Chair Eric Sandgren believes the most important decisions in the recruitment process will be in the hands of the president search and screen committee.
“The firm provides administrative help, sometimes quite extensively — they have access to a certain group of names, but really, the ones who make the decision are members of the committee,” Sandgren said. “The committee develops a series of questions that each candidate will be asked and then talks about the qualifications of each candidate in order to pick the best.”
The search for the next president of the UW System is expected to increase over the next two months, according to WSJ.
The process is crucial for the future success of the university, Sandgren said.
“This decision is incredibly important to the future quality, standing and success of UW-Madison,” Sandgren said. “I don’t know anything that could be more important.”