Pennsylvania State University’s board of trustees emerged from a private meeting on Friday and said they need more time to consider presidential candidates - and that’s why they canceled a public meeting where they were expected to vote on a new president.
“The search process is progressing and will continue until the best possible person to lead Penn State is selected and presented to the full board for a vote," Board of Trustees Chairman Keith Masser said in a prepared statement. “We fully expect that our efforts will ensure we attract a president who can truly maximize the potential of our exceptional University. We plan to conclude this process before the end of President Rodney Erickson's term in office, which is June 30, 2014.”
The announcement came shortly after trustees finished the private session held at the Nittany Lion Inn at State College where they received an update on the search.
School officials have declined to say whether a candidate has backed out or if another problem emerged in the search process. They also gave no indication whether a pick is a week, a month or months away.
The trustees on Tuesday had scheduled a special board meeting for Friday to deal with a personnel matter - the hiring of a president. A day later, the university abruptly announced the meeting was “delayed indefinitely to allow for further consideration on the matter.”
As early as Tuesday, there were reports of possible scheduling conflicts, but it was unclear if those caused the cancellation or whether an issue emerged with the candidate selected by a trustee committee.
The presidential search process has drawn criticism publicly and privately from some trustees upset that they had not been told the identity of the candidates or allowed to interview them. Only 12 of Penn State's 32 trustees served on the search committee.
The presidential pick is critical for the university as it recovers from the child sex-abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The new president - the university's 18th - will be charged with leading the 96,000-student, 24-campus system through continued fractious relationships with board members and alumni, some of whom are still upset that the school fired football coach Joe Paterno amid the scandal.
The new president will be in charge of a 44,000-employee enterprise that operates on an annual budget of more than $4 billion and has had to cope with flat or declining state funds in recent years.
The candidate will replace Erickson, who has said he plans to leave by June 30, or sooner if a new president is named. Erickson, whose salary is $600,000, took over in November 2011 after longtime president Graham B. Spanier was forced out by the scandal.
The university last March gathered input from faculty, staff and students on what they wanted to see in the next president. Penn State hired the executive search firm of Isaacson, Miller to help with the search.
Nearly 400 people were contacted about the position and an additional 150 were asked to suggest candidates, according to the university's presidential selection website. Women, minorities, and leaders in the corporate and nonprofit sector were among those contacted, according to the website.
Masser emphasized the need for confidentiality in the search process and said there would be no public presentation or posting of a short list of potential candidates.
“It has been shown repeatedly that a confidential search process for an executive position attracts the best and most qualified and extraordinary candidates. It is a protective measure for the candidates themselves and allows the University to attract the highest caliber of candidates,” Masser said in the statement. “The University is on an upward trajectory as evidenced by the gains in our rankings, our continuing strong enrollment, significant and increasing donor support, and the growing demand for our graduates by business, industry and government.”