The searchers

The searchers

Hiring a good person for a tough job is a major challenge.

Well, here we go again — another University of Illinois presidential search is underway.

UI trustees last week approved plans to appoint a 19-member committee (why so few?) and announced a January 2015 deadline. The new leader should be on the job by summer of 2015.

People can expect with 100 percent confidence that this committee of worker bees will labor mightily and with 50 percent confidence that they will find the right person for the job. History demonstrates that searches for academic leaders are a crapshoot, and failures — Nancy Cantor, Michael Hogan — are unfortunately as common as successes.

Even some of those considered good hires — former Provost Nancy Katehi — prove disappointing when they use their positions here as little more than a launching pad to an even better job elsewhere.

So the impending search combines a sense of both good and bad possibilities.

It's interesting that the UI is not going to rely heavily on an outside consulting firm, although apparently out of a sense of tradition it is going to pay one anyway. UI faculty members will bear a heavier burden to ferret out candidates who might be up to the UI job.

The undeniable fact is that there's no right or wrong way to go about searches of this nature. They are as unavoidable as they are dangerous. The next president may or may not be a disaster.

All that's certain is that there will be a next president.

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