For search committee member Andrew Norton, the search for the 16th President of Colorado State University can be summed up in one word: “thoughtful.”
The professor of Entomology in the College of Agricultural Sciences and faculty representative for the Board of Governors noted: “We had a very large and very diverse search advisory committee, which had representatives from all parts of the campuses, the community, and the state.”
The 31-member Search Advisory Committee was made up of people who represented a variety of campus and community stakeholder groups, including tenured and non-tenure-track faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students, alumni, the agricultural community, community and business leaders, as well as members of the CSU System Board of Governors.
“It was a large committee, and we did so intentionally to ensure that we had the diverse representation of our entire campus community – both from internal stakeholders as well as external partners and external stakeholders we work with,” said Search Chair and Vice Chair of the Board of Governors Armando Valdez.
The committee was named in late July, and when the group realized that some voices may not be as well-represented in the ranks of the advisors, it increased the originally named 29-person search committee to 31 people.
“What I really loved about the search process was the willingness to change things to make them more inclusive,” said Jimena Sagàs, associate professor with the Morgan Library, noting that extra listening sessions were added to meet campus needs, and that the search committee added a thematic analysis and Spanish translation to the process.
Once established, the committee’s first order of business was listening and gathering feedback.
The committee released a survey, held virtual and in-person listening sessions, and proactively reached out to groups to ensure all voices were heard.
“It was incredible to see different parts of campus speak up about how they loved CSU and the challenges they saw and what they wanted to see in their leader, and so I think what I benefited from as a search member was just to see how much the campus cared about who was coming next to fill this role and how invested they are in the success of this new president,” Sagàs said.
Top qualities in a president
The nine listening sessions asked stakeholders to identify what they were looking for in a new president – the top five responses included a person who: is supportive of staff, committed to DEI, focused on students, a collaborator, and a strategic thinker. Groups identified the top university challenges as low salaries of CSU employees, and the high cost of attending CSU – and voiced that the greatest opportunities for a new president involve work already underway and a strong campus community.
“From those hours of listening sessions, that’s how we developed the questions that we asked the candidates when they came to visit, and that’s how we created the rubric for how we evaluated the candidates. I think it was a very inclusive process of listening to the campus, as well as the community, and the state as to what we really need in the leader at CSU,” Norton said.
Sonia Kreidenweis, interim vice provost for graduate affairs, dean of the graduate school, and a University Distinguished Professor, said she was pleased with the way the search was conducted.
“There was lots of opportunity for campus to provide input through the listening sessions, and we added more sessions when people asked for them,” she said. “The sessions gave us a good cross-section of what the university is thinking, both their concerns and what they’re excited about, and this input was shared with the candidates so they could speak to it during their interviews.”
‘Supported and heard’
Reham Abdunabi, a sophomore political science major, was one of the students who served on the search committee. In addition to the committee prioritizing listening to the needs of the university community at-large, they also listened to and challenged one another in order to develop the best outcomes, she noted.
“I was encouraged to voice my opinion on candidates, was supported and heard, no matter what I said, which was a very important aspect,” Abdunabi said. “People should know that we looked at all the aspects of the candidates and made very detailed questions that included what we heard in the listening sessions. We did our best to find the most well-suited candidate that would hit the ground running, knew the culture of CSU and could make the most positive change to campus with their role.”
Development of the candidate pool focused on finding diverse candidates and included open candidate nominations and a nationwide search led by the Parker Executive Search firm.
Throughout the process, each committee member had the same voice at the table, and while some were naturally more outspoken than others, “We had open, honest, valuable discussion, and everyone had an opportunity to say something and to really advocate for the individual they thought should be part of the finalist pool. I wanted to make sure that everyone had power, influence, and contribution to the process,” Valdez said.
Narrowing down the list
From an initial candidate pool of 61, the search committee vetted each candidate and narrowed it down to a dozen candidates who were brought in for interviews, before arriving at a clear consensus on three qualified candidates, each of whom the committee felt could do the job. These candidates were then forwarded to the Board of Governors, which is the hiring authority.
The committee worked diligently to find that qualified slate to send to the board and put forth a slate of diverse individuals who came with different backgrounds, different approaches, Valdez said.
“We felt that any one of those individuals could do the job,” he said.
“The members of the search committee were very dedicated, spent a lot of time, and the process allowed each of us to be heard,” he said. “I think, in the end, we gave to the board a selection of candidates, all of whom, I think, could be successful.”
The Board of Governors interviewed all three candidates, engaged in rigorous debate and reconsideration of input from numerous sources, prior to announcing the sole finalist.
In reflecting on the process, Sagas said she found it difficult to describe it in one word, but selected three: “rigorous, intense, and inclusive.”
“To me, it was an inclusive process, that was fair to the candidates and also fair to the constituencies – the result was a reflection of everything we heard throughout the listening process.”
In accordance with Colorado law, there is a mandatory, 14-day notice and waiting period following the announcement of a finalist before the Board of Governors can enter into an employment agreement. During this time, the Board is welcoming feedback on the finalist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Following the 14-day waiting period, the Board can name the next president and enter into an employment agreement that will include determination of an official start date.
The 31-member Presidential Search Advisory Committee included:
- Armando Valdez, Board of Governors; Committee Chair.
- Reham Abdunabi, Political Science; student.
- Brett Anderson, alumni/donor; administrative professional.
- Olivia Arnold, Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences; non-tenure-track faculty.
- Polly Baca, Board of Governors.
- Stacey Baumgarn, CSU Facilities; state classified staff.
- Albert Bimper, professor of Ethnic Studies; Athletics administrator and alumnus; associate vice provost and associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts; interim chief of staff.
- Don Brown, former Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture; alumni/donor.
- Carla Dore, Workplace Resource; alumni/donor.
- Nate Easley, Board of Governors.
- Paula Edwards, alumni/donor.
- John Fischer, Board of Governors.
- Dora Frias, Director of El Centro.
- Bill Hammerich, Colorado Livestock Association.
- Sonia Kreidenweis, Atmospheric Science; University Distinguished Professor; and Interim Dean of the Graduate School.
- Faith Largo, Natural Sciences/Biology; student.
- Rob Long, Finance and Real Estate/Business Administration; student and ASCSU representative to the Board of Governors.
- Betsy Markey, Board of Governors.
- Todd Marksberry, CEO, Canvas Credit Union; donor/corporate partner.
- John Moore, Ecosystem Science and Sustainability; faculty.
- Andrew Norton, Agricultural Biology; faculty representative to the Board of Governors.
- Erik Olson, alumni/donor.
- Kathay Rennels, Interim VP for Engagement and Extension.
- Jimena Sagàs, University Libraries; faculty.
- Ivan Caro Terrazas, graduate student in Physics.
- Laura Thornes, International Programs, Administrative Professional representative.
- Toni-Lee Viney, Mechanical Engineering; administrative-professional.
- Diana Wall, School of Global Environmental Sustainability; University Distinguished Professor; faculty.
- Lise Youngblade, Dean, College of Health and Human Sciences.
- Marcus Zacarias, Political Science; student.
- Alisha Zmuda, Classified Personnel Council.
“This moment in time of higher education calls for tremendously skilled leaders to navigate significant societal challenges in pursuit of opportunities that advance the mission of our institutions while serving the needs of our communities, locally, nationally, and across the globe. The search committee, representing the broad interests of the diverse stakeholders of Colorado State University, set out to find our next leader with the experience and demonstrated skill to unite our campus, alumni, and supporters around our compelling land-grant mission for the betterment of the state of Colorado and beyond. The search committee approached this process with measured attention to details and a deep consideration of the constituent groups they represented. I have no doubt that that Colorado State University, because of the quality of their service, is headed in the right direction and poised for its next stage of excellence.”
— Dr. Albert Bimper, professor of Ethnic Studies; Athletics administrator and alumnus; associate vice provost and associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts; interim chief of staff
“The search committee was intentional and committed to integrating a diverse range of voices into its process. Input gathered from campus listening sessions was centered through every step of the process, from creating the job description and reviewing applications to developing interview questions and submitting recommendations to the Board of Governors. I am grateful to be a part of an institution where so much care and attention was placed on ensuring an inclusive search process that leaned heavily on listening and learning about the needs of students, employees, external partners, and many other constituents that form this vibrant community. The search process was conducted in a way that ensured a diversity of perspectives were at the center of every conversation and every decision.”
— Toni-Lee Viney, Mechanical Engineering; administrative-professional