After a lengthy and largely private process that left students and faculty in the dark over their school’s future, new details have emerged on what Bethune-Cookman University is looking for in its next leader and when it plans to hire its seventh president.
Nearly a year and half since Edison Jackson’s abrupt retirement amid a swirl of controversy, a posting on the university’s website offers a glimpse into the search for his replacement. According to B-CU’s presidential search web page, the university seeks a person with both fundraising prowess and financial acumen and could make the selection as early as February — just months before its regional accreditation is reviewed.
B-CU’s administration directed requests for comment to board chair Michelle Carter-Scott, who did not respond questions.
The website provides new specifics on the process:
A 17-member search committee composed of a student, staff, faculty and board members will take part in the search. Leading the effort is Washington D.C.-based AGB Search, which according to the website specializes in executive level searches for higher education institutions.
The application deadline is Dec. 3. Once the university has at least eight candidates, committee members will begin screening applicants by phone.
In January, off-site interviews will take place. University leadership and search committee members will interview the final three candidates on site. The committee will make final recommendations Jan. 31, with B-CU’s board of trustees voting Feb. 1.
The new hire faces a host of challenges, including federal and state investigations into a costly student housing project that prompted a lawsuit by the school alleging fraud against Jackson and others; additional lawsuits that have driven B-CU’s legal bills to more than $1 million; and probationary status for the nursing program and the school’s regional accreditation, the loss of which could imperil the school’s future.
[Read: Documents show B-CU’s new dorm will cost school $306 million]
[Read: B-CU slapped with probation; Hubert Grimes blames media, lawsuits]
In addition, B-CU’s last two tax returns — covering Jackson’s final two years — showed losses totaling nearly $30 million, which explains why financial expertise is such a priority. The website also says the university needs an “ethical, visionary, and strategic leader” who will “work to restore faith and trust in institutional efficacy.”
While the university expects its next president to operate in an “environment of openness and transparency,” its job posting for the position at insidehighered.com makes no mention of school’s troubles, only saying, “The position will require knowledge of regional and specialized accreditation.”
However, the profile on the university’s website addresses some of the issues B-CU is facing.
“The current SACSCOC probation, the University Senate warning, and the Florida State Board of Nursing probation statuses represents a substantial challenge for a new president. While the University’s Board of Trustees, interim leadership, and other administrators have done much to address the causes of this sanction, the next president will be in a position to lead the University to final resolution.”
Given the issues the university is facing, the time frame of the hiring has left stakeholders divided.
It’s been more than 16 months since Jackson announced he was stepping down amid backlash over his push for a housing project that left the university on the hook for $306 million. Following Jackson’s departure, Hubert Grimes took the helm as interim president, though he’s had his share of problems including faculty protests and infighting with the board that nearly led to his firing.
[READ: B-CU students to keep president — at least for another day]
B-CU graduate student Norma Bland said that for the sake of stability, she would like a new president installed as soon as possible.
“Bethune-Cookman University needs a fundraising, problem-solving, ethical-thinking president,” Bland said. “One who knows how to raise money.”
Johnny McCray Jr., a B-CU alumnus and trustee from 2007 to 2015, said he was fine with waiting, as long as the extra time produced better candidates.
McCray cautioned that he did not want the university to hurry on the matter — a mistake he said it made in naming Jackson president after he served as interim for 11 months.
[Read: B-CU sues former president Edison Jackson over dorm deal]
“I would have some serious concerns about rushing just to get a president without making certain that it’s a quality president that is good fit for the university,” McCray said. “Just don’t want a situation where we’re rushing to get a president and we’re not doing the type of due diligence that is required for us to avoid making the kind of mistakes that we’ve made before in the selection process.”