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UW System presidential search committee forging ahead amid COVID-19 pandemic
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UW System presidential search committee forging ahead amid COVID-19 pandemic

From the The COVID-19 pandemic hits home: Keep up with the latest local news on the coronavirus outbreak series
Abe Lincoln statue at Bascom Hill, CT generic file photo

The group searching for the next leader of Wisconsin’s public university system is plowing ahead amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The search committee tasked with identifying University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross’ successor previously proposed a timeline that included semifinalist interviews in April, announcement of finalists in early May and approval of the new president by the UW Board of Regents in mid- to late May. Cross plans to stay on until the new leader starts.

The search committee hopes to stay on that schedule by speaking with applicants over the computer instead of in person.

All nine members of the search committee attended a “highly productive” meeting Tuesday held over the phone, according to a statement from committee chairman Michael Grebe.

“We continue to proceed with the search for the next UW System President given how critical it is to the future of Wisconsin,” the statement said. “Of course, we are proceeding differently given the pandemic and the constraints it has imposed, which will include virtual interviews for those candidates taking the next step in the process slated for mid-April. We are moving forward using the tools we have available at any given time with the hope that we can stay on schedule.”

The committee’s approach differs from at least one other large university system searching for its next leader.

The California State University system suspended its search and plans to pick it back up later this year, The Los Angeles Times reported. The current leader had planned to retire in June, but will stay on for longer than intended.

“It is crucially important for stable and experienced hands to provide thoughtful guidance on all areas affecting the operations of the university,” CSU Chancellor Timothy White said in a statement this week.

It’s unclear whether the pandemic has postponed two other university systems searching for leaders. Emails to those involved with the searches at the University of North Carolina and University of California systems were not returned Thursday.

In Wisconsin, the search committee process has already been criticized by many, including Gov. Tony Evers. No faculty nor staff serve on the committee, a break from decades of protocol, and the sole student on the committee also serves on the UW Board of Regents.

Asked what public input, if any, will be sought during the remainder of the search, System spokesman Mark Pitsch said, “We are going to use the tools we have available given the situation at the time. We are taking it one step at a time.”

The search committee’s website still allows people to submit written feedback and several listening sessions were held in December and January.

The search firm assisting the committee, Storbeck Search & Associates, had a March 15 target date to receive applications. Pitsch declined this week to say how many applications have been received.

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