One of three finalists for the University of Toledo presidency dropped out of contention Monday, announcing his withdrawal hours after trustees met in a closed session to begin hiring deliberations.
Christopher Howard, 46, president of the private, all-male Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia told UT officials by email that he was no longer interested in the position.
“After significant thought and discussions with my family and members of the Hampden-Sydney College community, I have decided to withdraw my candidacy for president of the University of Toledo,” he wrote in an email sent to UT board chairman Joseph H. Zerbey IV, who is also The Blade’s president and general manager, and vice chairman Sharon Speyer.
He also sent the email to a Blade reporter and Dennis Barden, a senior partner with Witt/Kieffer, the firm hired by UT to assist with the presidential search.
Mr. Howard thanked trustees “who encouraged me to apply,” and stated that “in light of recent events,” continuing his current work “is the best course of action at this time.” He did not elaborate on the decision and could not be reached for further comment.
His withdrawal leaves UT with two remaining presidential finalists: Michele Wheatly, 58, the former West Virginia University provost, and Sharon Gaber, 51, University of Arkansas provost. Ms. Gaber was endorsed by UT’s student newspaper and received the best reviews in an online, voluntary, and anonymous questionnaire completed by several hundred UT staff, faculty, administrators, students, and others.
Ms. Wheatly and Ms. Gaber were the two candidates favored by most members of the faculty senate, according to its president.
Trustees met in executive session earlier Monday for about an hour and a half to discuss the presidential hire. They did not take any votes or announce a decision.
Mr. Howard remained a serious contender before his withdrawal, Mr. Zerbey said.
“It came as a surprise to me and Sharon [Speyer]. I have no idea what was in his noggin,” he said.
He said he did not speak to Mr. Howard after the meeting and didn’t know what “recent events” the former candidate was referencing in his letter.
“I do know that we were excited to get him, and this is a disappointment — no question about it,” Mr. Zerbey said, adding that two very good candidates remain in the running.
At the advice of UT’s search firm and with the aim of recruiting talented applicants, a couple of trustees met with potential candidates early in the search process to encourage them to apply. Ms. Speyer talked to Mr. Howard, Mr. Zerbey said. She could not be reached for comment.
Fellow trustees discussed the finalists and deliberated at Monday’s meeting but made no decisions, said board member Dr. S. Amjad Hussain.
“After I left the meeting, we still had three viable candidates,” he said. “We had decided to continue our conversation.”
Mr. Zerbey said he was impressed by Mr. Howard’s resume, which includes a doctorate in politics from Oxford University, a master of business administration degree from Harvard Business School, and service with the U.S. Air Force.
Mr. Howard, however, received the lowest marks in a feedback report reviewed by trustees and released Monday.
UT asked students, faculty, staff, and others to fill out an online questionnaire about each of the three candidates. Of the roughly 380 completed surveys regarding Mr. Howard, 105 responses indicated he would have difficulty meeting expectations in most areas, 141 said he would probably meet most, and 104 rated him as “outstanding.”
Many respondents thought he lacked the experience needed to run UT, a larger, more complex university than the 1,100-student college he currently leads.
Ms. Gaber fared the best in the questionnaire, with 277 of the roughly 370 responses rating her as “outstanding.”
Marks for Ms. Wheatly were spread fairly evenly among “outstanding” or that she could probably exceed or meet expectations.
The submissions represent “a very, very small sample” of the UT community and public, Mr. Zerbey said.
He said he wasn’t surprised by the praise for Ms. Gaber, whom he said “resonates in the academic world.”
Trustees have not set a meeting date for when they will next discuss the hiring decision.
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