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Augustana Presidential Search Underway

Augustana College

The past couple months have been a busy time in the private college presidential search business in the Quad-Cities.

In late January, Augustana College president Steven Bahls announced he would delay his planned retirement one year – from July 2021 to July 1, 2022. In early February, St. Ambrose University concluded its search for its 14th president of the Davenport institution, naming Amy Novak, president of Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota, to take the helm in August, with the retirement of Sister Joan Lescinski.

And last month, Augustana held several listening sessions with key constituencies of the campus and wider community, to help draft a job description and get on the road to choose its ninth president by next January.

The 66 year old Bahls delayed his retirement to lead the college through the challenging years of the pandemic. John Murabito, from the class of 1980, is chairman of Augustana’s Board of Trustees and its 13-member presidential search committee.

Credit Augustana College
Augustana Board of Trustees Chair John Murabito

“With the onset of the whole Covid situation, the challenges we expected with everything from enrollment to the safety of the students, to how we handle the situation, the board felt and Steve both felt that delaying his retirement to make sure we got through what was likely going to be a challenging time with his leadership in place, that that made sense.”

The search committee, including trustees, faculty, an administrator, and a current student, is partnering with Academic Search, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that specializes in leadership-level search for colleges. Mutabito says the board wanted an early start on the presidential search process, to name the next person by next January.

“Getting a really good start on understanding the perspectives of all the stakeholders around the role, would give us a great opportunity to do that. Then to be into the marketplace for a new president, at an advantageous time, and also we think it allows hopefully to be in a position, getting an early start, to have an early end. So that if we can be in position to announce our next president by January 1 st of ’22, that would allow for a great transitional time, which really would be helpful on a lot of different planes.”

Several listening sessions were held last month, with different groups on Zoom – including the Augustana board, Q-C community leaders, alumni leaders, students, the college cabinet, administration, and faculty. The feedback will help the search committee compile a job description, what Murabito called “a leadership profile," for the search.

“We’re about to recruit and select only the ninth president of Augustana. We feel like it’s critically important obviously, that we make a great choice. Steve Bahls has been a wonderful president at Augustana; big shoes to fill. But we also have to make sure we’re conscious of the challenges of the future. We wanted to make sure we were really thorough in these listening sessions to understand what people felt like was going to be key to success over the next 5, 10, 20 years.”

He says the leadership profile used in recruitment, describing what they need in the next president, will be done by the search consultant in the next six weeks.

Eight white men have been president of Augustana since its founding in 1860. Given that Amy Novak will be the second woman to lead St. Ambrose University since 2007, and the increasing national emphasis on college diversity, equity, and inclusion, should Augustana’s next leader be a woman or minority?

“Diversity has been really important to Augustana, particularly in the timeframe Steve has been president. The numbers of our diversity students – both ethnic minorities and as well as international students -- have risen remarkably in the last 20 years. We would consider ourselves at this point, a diverse student body. That said, there’s always opportunities to improve on the representation side as well as how we think about inclusion and equity and so forth."

“It’s really important that we have the opportunity to seek candidates for president that are women or minorities. So it’s definitely a priority in terms of the search process and pool of candidates.”

Just 30 percent of U.S. college and university presidencies were held by women in 2016 -- up from 21 percent in 2001.

It’s a challenge to choose one person who will represent all the needs and aspirations of the community.

“It’s hard, you know? Whenever you’re talking about a job like this that requires so many different things. The task of the search committee and search consultant is that we have so many different challenges, as well as the types of capabilities we’re trying to fill. What you have to do is say, what’s primary? What are things that are most necessary in our next president? How is he or she prepared to understand and deliver on the challenges we know are coming?"

“You’ll end up having to make choices and probably tradeoffs. I doubt there’s a person alive that has every single base covered. You could probably say the same for any big job in any organization.”

For more information on the search process, visit www.augustana.edu/presidential-search.

A native of Detroit, Herb Trix began his radio career as a country-western disc jockey in Roswell, New Mexico (“KRSY, your superkicker in the Pecos Valley”), in 1978. After a stint at an oldies station in Topeka, Kansas (imagine getting paid to play “Louie Louie” and “Great Balls of Fire”), he wormed his way into news, first in Topeka, and then in Freeport Illinois.