The search to fill Weingarten’s shoes

The search is still on for the eighth president in the 42-year history of the University of Calgary. With president Harvey Weingarten scheduled to retire this January after eight years at the U of C, the Presidential Advisory Search Committee has been tasked with recommending a new candidate.

The PASC, established last year, has been consulting with stakeholders throughout the summer to determine the characteristics desired in a new top executive. “Ideally [we’d like to] select someone who is well respected in the academic community, in Calgary, as well as in the government community,” said Graduate Students’ Association president and PASC member Veronique Dorais. “They should understand graduate and undergraduate success.”

But with only three months left before Weingarten leaves, the chances of having a president at the institute for Jan. 1 are unlikely. Dorais described the timeline as ambitious but says she has confidence in the committee.

“[We are] hoping to have someone for January, whether or not that happens is up to their flexibility,” said the GSA president. “Summer for sure.”

Flexibility is something that may be hard to come by. High-level executives are most often hired from across institutions, needing a certain amount of time to give notice to their current organization before they are available to start with a new employer and typically, the more prestigious the hire, the longer the notice period.

If a replacement cannot be found by January, an interim president will be appointed.

“The interim hasn’t [yet] been decided,” explained Dorais. “The Board of Governors makes that decision.”

Charlotte Kingston, the other student representative on the committee and the Students’ Union president, said that she’s optimistic a replacement will be found within the timeline.

“We aren’t currently looking at an interim,” said Kingston. “I’m hopeful we’ll find someone by January, but that doesn’t mean that person will be standing here.”

The first phase of the search process, stakeholder consultations, occurred this past spring and summer, helping to finalize the criteria for candidate assessment.

The full list of criteria, which is available online at, includes: an established academic reputation; a commitment to the enhancement of teaching; a successful track record in fundraising from public and private sources and a willingness to place that activity high on the agenda; and demonstrated capabilities in sound financial management.

“I’m impressed with the level of consultation,” said Kingston. “The committee [has been] receptive to feedback on behalf of students so far.”

Concurrently with the criteria formation, hired search consultants Ray & Berndtson Canada have been identifying and contacting potential applicants recommended by the committee, through their own search process for qualified candidates.

If this sounds a bit like head-hunting, it’s because it is. In the increasingly corporate world of academics the best candidates are often already employed.

“The school basically stole [Weingarten] from McMaster,” said Dorais, referring to his last position as vice-president academic and provost at McMaster University. “It’s a competitive atmosphere, we are on the market the same time as several other schools.”

Within the last year, several post-secondary institutions across the country have replaced their president, including the University of Northern British Columbia, the University of the Fraser Valley, the University of Western Ontario, Trent University and the University of New Brunswick.

Once considered only the domain of qualified post-secondary leaders, universities have started looking outside the academic realm. This past April Dominic Giroux became Laurentian University’s ninth president after serving in the Ontario government as assistant deputy minister with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

On its website, Memorial University, which is also currently searching for a president, said “university presidential searches both in Canada and abroad, normally take between six and 10 months to complete — that is, from the start of the search until the name of the successful candidate is made public. There may also be some lag time required from when that name is made public to when the successful candidate is available to take up the position of president.”

The Newfoundland-based university has been seeking a new president since May 2007.

“It’s not going to be easy to find someone,” said Dorais. “This is a crucial time in the U of C’s history. Harvey has done a lot for the school, building its reputation. He’s set a foundation for someone to take it to the next level.”

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