Searching for presidents of Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities costs a pretty penny.
Slippery Rock is no exception to this rule.
According to Debra Erdley, a Trib Total Media staff writer, records show eight universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education spent a total of $1 million — averaging more than $120,000 — on searches to fill presidential vacancies since 2010.
Erdley stated that search costs that ranged from $143,700 at Indiana University of Pennsylvania to $97,700 at Millersville University of Pennsylvania included bills for executive search consultants, travel, catering, advertising and background checks for candidates.
Though consulting fees make up the biggest part of the bills, a breakdown of costs for the searches showed travel for consultants, trustees and job candidates, some of whom live as far away as Alaska, came in second in most cases.
Erdley said at Indiana, bills for travel, food and room rentals totaled $46,789. At Edinboro, travel costs were $48,715
Erdley interviewed John Hicks, a retired Slippery Rock University professor, who was a member of the search committee whose work led to the appointment of Cheryl Norton as Slippery Rock president last year.
According to Erdley, Hicks was taken aback when he learned how much the searches cost — Slippery Rock’s totaled $117,744.
Yet Hicks said the work is intensive, “and every bit of information you can get is valuable.”
“I suppose if you didn’t spend the money and didn’t get a good president, you’d think it would be well worthwhile. We ended up with five good candidates we felt we could live with,” Hicks said to Erdley, adding that Norton has proven to be a thoughtful, self-confident leader.
But why does the search to fill a single position cost so much?
A survey by the American Council on Education suggests college presidents moved through executive offices more frequently in recent years. The survey of 1,662 colleges and universities found the average tenure of college presidents declined from 8.5 years in 2006 to 7 years in 2011.
And it’s not just the state universities that pay six-figure search fees.
In light of budget cuts, where are universities finding the money to pay for these searches? Is it money that is being taken away from the students? Or does Slippery Rock have a special budgetary fund for such searches?
That’s a mystery that has yet to come to light.