As the University of Toledo seeks a transformative leader to become its next president, it seems just as well that the eight-year incumbent, Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, is accelerating his departure date to next Monday. That timetable should encourage the UT Board of Trustees to conduct a search for Dr. Jacobs’ successor that is expeditious as well as broad and open.
When Dr. Jacobs announced his intention last March to step down, his initial plan was to stay on through mid-2015 — a rather long lame-duck period. Last week, though, UT announced that he will spend the next academic year on sabbatical as a fellow with the Council on Competitiveness, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that seeks to enhance America’s position in the global marketplace.
He will return to UT in 2015 as a professor of surgery; Dr. Jacobs headed the former Medical College of Ohio before it merged with UT and he became president of the combined institution. Under a revised contract, he will receive $392,700 annually for the next three years (matching his current salary as president), collect a $150,000 lump-sum payment, and receive other benefits.
That agreement is expensive, but it enables the public university to make a fresh start in its search for new leadership. UT’s trustees now must take full advantage of that opportunity.
This week, the UT board named the longtime dean of the university’s school of engineering, Nagi Naganathan, interim president. Mr. Naganathan says he may apply for the permanent post.
No potential candidate should be given an inside track, to placate the local business community or any other interest group. Instead, the trustees need to cast as wide a net as possible to attract a diverse array of candidates, conduct an adequately transparent search process, and account to UT’s constituents — on campus and in the community — for their progress every step of the way.
At the same time, the trustees cannot allow UT’s leadership vacuum to persist for too long. In addition to hiring a president, the university must name a new provost to succeed incumbent Scott Scarborough, who takes over next week as president of the University of Akron. It also must replace Dr. Jeffrey Gold, the former chancellor of UT’s health science campus, who left this year to become chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
That is a formidable agenda, but no more of one than UT’s next president will face. She or he will have to maintain and seek to upgrade the quality of the medical school, while paying proper attention to other key elements of the university. That means attaching appropriate importance to UT’s arts and humanities departments, even if the teaching they provide cannot be monetized for a quick economic return.
It also means avoiding a reprise of the debacle involving University of Toledo Innovation Enterprises. The nonprofit economic development agency, subsidized by UT revenue, has invested nearly $10 million, mostly in technology start-ups. Whatever return UT realized under UTIE’s former chief administrator, Rick Stansley, still demands a full accounting.
UT is Ohio’s third largest public university. It also is an indispensable economic engine and educational resource for northwest Ohio. It requires a respected academic leader as its new president, who will elevate UT’s national and global reputation. The trustees — and the community — should settle for nothing less.