Failed search for UMD chancellor cost more than $160,000

The University of Minnesota paid an outside search firm about $166,000 for help finding the next chancellor of its Duluth campus, but President Joan Gabel announced this week that none of the finalists who were invited for interviews got the job.

“As difficult as it is to announce, and in light of our University’s robust enthusiasm and commitment across this entire search process, unfortunately it did not yield UMD’s next chancellor,” Gabel said Monday in a message to Duluth students and employees.

The U began its national search for a new Duluth chancellor in November after Chancellor Lendley Black announced he would retire after 12 years leading the northern Minnesota campus. Over the past several months, university leaders sought feedback from students and employees and established an internal search committee of faculty and administrators. The U also tapped search firm Korn Ferry for assistance, paying it about $166,000 to consult, according to the contract.

Three finalists were invited to campus and met with students and employees at public forums last month. They were Corey King, vice chancellor for university inclusivity and student affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay; Dale Whittaker, a senior program officer lead for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and former president of the University of Central Florida; and Debra Larson, California State University-Chico’s provost and vice president for academic affairs.

None of the finalists could be reached for comment.

In her announcement, Gabel did not explain why no finalist was chosen, nor did she say if she offered any of them the job. She said she read “each and every line” of written feedback Duluth community members submitted about the candidates, adding it “greatly helped to inform our thinking.”

The U declined requests for interviews.

“The university doesn’t have anything else to publicly share about the outcome of the search beyond what President Gabel said in her message to the Duluth campus,” U spokesman Jake Ricker said.

Gabel has invited the Duluth campus community to submit nominations for an interim chancellor who will lead for the next two years. She said she hopes to name an interim chancellor before the end of June.

The university can seek further assistance from the search firm at no extra cost through Dec. 31, when the contract ends, Ricker said.

Some Duluth professors said they were puzzled by Gabel’s announcement because they felt two of the three finalists were qualified.

“They failed the search and they’re stuck with an interim for two years, which is extremely disappointing,” said Christina Gallup, a professor in the Duluth campus’ Swenson College of Science and Engineering.

Gallup said she felt one candidate in particular would have been an effective leader who could have pushed forward diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Under an interim leader, Gallup worries momentum for such efforts could be stalled.

Since the murder of George Floyd, Duluth campus faculty have pushed the administration to hire more professors of color, update curricula to be more responsive to students of all learning levels, and improve retention of students of color, Gallup said.

“We can’t just be in a holding pattern,” said Gallup, who helped start an Antiracist Learning Community on the campus. “We need an interim chancellor who is not just treading water, but who will speak up and work to deal with those issues.”

Music professor Rudy Perrault said he has watched diversity, equity and inclusion efforts stall many times in the more than 20 years he has worked at the Duluth campus. He hoped the next chancellor would come from outside the University of Minnesota system and be willing to challenge the status quo. That’s less likely to occur with an interim nominated internally, he said.

“It feels like we keep banging our heads against the wall and the needle is not moving much,” Perrault said. “I want the opportunity for somebody from the outside to take a fresh look.”

English Professor John Schwetman, president-elect of the Duluth campus’ faculty union, said searches for top administrators and faculty sometimes come up empty, as finalists for the positions are often in high demand considering multiple offers.

Like other Duluth professors, Schwetman said he wishes there was more explanation of why this one was unsuccessful. But he said high-level searches are often “shrouded in confidentiality” and “designed to protect the reputations of the people who apply.”

“It would be nice to have more of an explanation, but I’m also understanding of the larger context,” he said.