Winthrop President

Winthrop employees say personality matters for next president

Recent experiences with a president who spent less than one year in office at Winthrop University influenced some comments from campus employees on Tuesday during a meeting with a search firm that will likely recruit the school's next president.

Bill Funk, founder and president of R. William Funk and Associates, met this week with several Winthrop groups. Those attending the meetings included professors, administrators, staff members, students, alumni and Rock Hill community members.

With an audience of mostly professors and other campus employees on Tuesday morning, Funk solicited comments about the characteristics people hope to see in Winthrop's 11th president. Funk, a nationally-recognized college search consultant, has been hired to help find a replacement for former Winthrop President Jamie Comstock Williamson. Williamson was fired in June.

Some people told Funk that he should look for presidential candidates who won't have personality clashes or behavior issues on campus. Among the issues cited by Winthrop trustees in firing Williamson in June was that she was "hostile" and "demeaning" toward campus employees. Through her attorney at the time, Williamson denied that claim and all other allegations against her.

The university is harmed by Williamson’s behaviors, said Antje Mays, a faculty member with Winthrop's library, on Tuesday.

Some Winthrop employees said on Tuesday that it may be difficult for a search firm or committee to predict how a candidate will behave on campus. Mays said Funk and Winthrop trustees should look for someone "with a sense of self-control" to lead the school.

Still, others suggested that Williamson made some positive changes during her short time as president. Design professor Jennifer Belk and a few other people pointed out that Williamson backed a staff assembly group, giving a new governance voice to non-teaching employees on campus. That "empowerment," Belk said, should continue with the next president.

English professor Jo Koster echoed Belk's comments, saying students rightfully come first at Winthrop and that faculty and staff members need to also feel appreciated. Several people said on Tuesday that employee morale is low at Winthrop.

Winthrop needs a president to "pull us all together," said Peter Judge, professor and chair of the university's philosophy and religious studies department. He said the next president doesn't necessarily need to be a strong academic scholar but should "get out of our way" and leave teaching and curriculum decisions to professors.

The university could benefit, Judge said, from a president who has political know-how and who can represent Winthrop well in government and business arenas.

Many other professors and staff members said Winthrop needs a president with previous experience at a public university, preferably with political and interpersonal skills to effectively navigate Southern culture.

Winthrop's tradition of providing students with a solid liberal arts education and serving South Carolinians needs to be highlighted when recruiting the next president, said Greg Oakes, with the school's college of arts and sciences. Williamson, he said, seemed excited about bolstering Winthrop's reputation and outreach efforts in the region. Oakes said he wants a president who is passionate about the university’s core mission.

Other comments on Tuesday centered around the need for Winthrop to hire a savvy fundraiser to help provide more scholarships for students and make up for dwindling tax revenue from state government.

Funk says the faculty and staff comments will guide him as he charts Winthrop's next steps in the search process. Soon, he will place advertisements for the open position in national higher education publications.

This week on campus, "we kept hearing the term 'family,'" to describe the Winthrop community, Funk said. "This is a place that people do love and have great affection for."

Events surrounding former president Williamson's time at Winthrop, Funk said, will not deter quality candidates from applying for the presidency. He told campus employees to not be concerned and to "look forward, instead of backward."

Winthrop is looking at "a six-month journey" before a new president is chosen, Funk said. In about three months, he believes the school will have a pool of candidates and could start interviews after that. From there, Winthrop's search committee will likely make a "short-list" of about 10 to 15 candidates.

His firm will then assist in "due diligence" research and background work on each short-listed applicant, Funk said. The school's search committee will likely then "squeeze" that pool to about eight people to interview.

After interviews, Funk said, Winthrop search officials will name three or four finalists and bring those people to campus. Those visits will likely happen around March. Later in the spring, he said, trustees may be ready to hire a president to begin in the summer of 2015.