UI prepares to use fewer search firms

URBANA — The University of Illinois is preparing to implement a new policy that aims to cut down on the use of search firms to recruit certain employees.

A draft policy was shared with trustees Thursday in advance of a full board meeting scheduled for later this month in Chicago.

The policy was drawn up in response to legislation signed by Gov. Pat Quinn last year. It prohibits public universities like the UI from hiring external search firms except when recruiting a president or when the president or board of trustees demonstrates a need for using such a firm. Universities were required to have in place a policy in place by July 1.

In order for a campus or college to hire a search firm, one of the following criteria must be met, according to Eric Smith, assistant vice president of equal opportunity and human resources at the UI:

— When searching for the university president.

— When the university believes the search for a senior position, such as chancellor, requires strict confidentiality in the initial stage, and at a level staff on campus aren't able to provide.

— When the search for the position, such as an athletic coach, requires extensive recruiting and networking due to competitive market as well as when there's a need to create a diverse candidate pool.

— When the position is in a field or function not found traditionally within higher education, such as a specialized field of medicine.

Each campus will draft its own process for how departments and units will request approval for hiring executive search firms, said Maureen Parks, associate vice president and executive director of human resources at the UI. Those approvals will be routed to her office and the president's office, then back to the campuses.

Parks's office will track the use of such firms, for which positions they're being used and how much the campuses are spending on search firms. Her office will report this information annually to trustees.

Parks estimated that about six to 12 current searches are using search firms to recruit candidates. For example, on the Urbana-Champaign campus, the UI has turned to a search firm to help find a dean for the College of Engineering and in Chicago the campus is using a firm to recruit an associate provost.

"Since last summer the campuses have become more cognizant of the use of search firms," Parks said.

Just how the legislation and new policy could reduce the use of firms and the amount spent on them will depend on which positions become open, she said. If, for example, the basketball coach resigns tomorrow, the campus would likely turn to a search firm to help them recruit a new one, Parks said.

The legislation, sponsored by then-Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, and Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, was prompted in part by a News-Gazette report detailing the UI's hiring of executive search firms in recent years. The UI spent almost $6 million over a nine-year period to recruit university presidents, chancellors, deans, directors and other positions, The News-Gazette found.

In one year, the newspaper found, the university spent $190,000 to hire a firm to recruit deans for the law and business colleges and when those searches didn't pan out, the UI hired another firm at a cost of $200,000. The UI wound up choosing internal employees for both jobs.

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Bulldogmojo wrote on May 10, 2013 at 2:05 pm

How about the U of I using the tried and true method of posting a job, looking at the applicants, conducting interviews and then hiring someone?

This process has worked well for the private sector and its almost free of charge.

Lostinspace wrote on May 10, 2013 at 5:05 pm

And involve the faculty in a meaningful way (if they want that responsibility).

Danno wrote on May 10, 2013 at 3:05 pm

I'm (not holding my breath) awaiting the unspecified cost amounts spent for a consulting search firm's recommendation to the U of I to use fewer search firms.

kyedpa5 wrote on May 10, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Took the joke right out of my mouth...

Reykjavik wrote on May 13, 2013 at 6:05 am

Why dont these idiots ust advertize and look at the applicants!  That's how the foreman of my painting crew was hired, so why not use a similar approach for the Provost or the head of any billion dollar operation?