Long search for undergraduate dean detailed

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For Paul Woodruff, stepping down as dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies to return to teaching means changing jobs, but for the school it means an international search for a new dean that could take more than six months.

More than 10 faculty members and students will lead a search committee to find Woodruff’s replacement. These committees are the groups that seek out and hire the University’s president, provost, vice presidents and deans. Architecture professor Larry Speck, who has served as the chair of three vice president search committees in the past decade, sat down with The Daily Texan to talk about his past experience on search committees and explain the process of picking a new dean.

Speck most recently served as the chair on the search committee for the Vice President of Student Affairs, a hunt that started in October 2011 and ended in May 2012 when Powers selected one of three recommended applicants, Gage Paine of UT-San Antonio.

Before the search, Speck said search committees for deans are typically composed of appointed students and faculty members. Speck said the college in question gets to elect around five members and President William Powers Jr. will appoint several more. Among the appointees, Speck said usually one dean from another college or school is included. In the case of the new dean for the School of Undergraduate Studies, which does not have professors in its department, it is not clear what faculty will serve on the committee and if they will be involved.

Once the members are appointed, the committee for a new dean appoints a chair and receives advice.

“They get some advice from the president and whoever else is relevant about what the criteria is for this position and what we are looking for,” Speck said.

Speck said the search committee will then start posting job descriptions and waiting for applications.

In the search for the vice president of student affairs, Speck said the committee had about 100 applications before the winter break.

“We first made one quick cut of people who just weren’t qualified,” Speck said. We said ‘Here is the criteria, and theses candidates just don’t match it.’”

After that, Speck said the search committee read all the other applications and scored them over winter break. Speck said the committee had come up with almost a dozen criteria points that each candidate was scored on.

“We saw which ones came to the top and we had a discussion of those people,” Speck said. “Then we narrowed it down to about nine people to invite to what we call airport interviews.”

Airport interviews are a secretive part of the process. In the search for the vice president of student affairs, Speck said the search committee invited all nine candidates to Austin for a weekend. The committee met with each candidate in secret. The meetings were held at hotels close to the airport and not on campus.

“They don’t have to tell their University or their employer, ‘I’m thinking about taking another job,” Speck said. “That’s why we keep it completely confidential and the interview out at the hotel and not on campus, so somebody doesn’t see them and say ‘What are you doing on campus?’ and make it a very awkward position.”

Speck said one of the challenging parts of the search committee is organizing the schedules of all nine candidates and the entire committee to be available for one weekend of interviewing. While arranging this around busy schedules was challenging, Speck said it is a useful strategy.

“What was really good about it actually is that you saw everybody in close proximity,” Speck said. “So you were able to make those comparisons pretty easily.”

After that point, in the search for vice president of student affairs, Speck said the committee was able to narrow it down to four people.

“We brought them into the campus and they go through a two or three day thing where they talk to everybody and their brother that might have anything to do with their job,” Speck said.

From this, Speck said the committee gets feedback from the faculty, the students and the president. The final step is to submit three unranked recommendations to Powers, who makes the final decision.

The road ahead Speck said the long and intense process is taken very seriously.

“All of these would be international searches,” Speck said. “You’re trying to get the very best from anywhere in the world. They take a long time. This is true at most Universities, this is just the way it is in academia when you are hiring people at this level.”

Woodruff, who announced he was returning to teaching on Wednesday, said he expected an interim dean to be announced sometime within the next week. Speck said sometimes the interim dean becomes the next dean, but that is not always the case.

“All this committee stuff, it is a clean slate,” Speck said. “The committee does what the committee does. The President appoints an interim, but that person may have intentionally been appointed because they weren’t a candidate.”

Woodruff’s announcement comes at a time when the school is expecting a 66 percent increase in student enrollment. Despite this, Speck said the transition from Woodruff, to interim dean and back to a new permanent dean will be seamless.

“The University does this all the time,” Speck said. “We have one person who is really good at their job and very responsible and then they decide they’re going to move on and do something else, so we replace them and it happens all the time.”