How the CFO Influences a Presidential Search and Transition in Higher Ed A Conversation with Zachary A. Smith, PhD
How the CFO Influences a Presidential Search and Transition in Higher Ed A Conversation with Zachary A. Smith, PhD" data-count="horizontal">

Other than an institution’s president, there may be no more important position in academia today than the chief financial officer or VP of finance. As the academy considers its future, the CFO is central to its most important discussions—especially around financial planning, budgeting, capital planning, and more. The CFO, therefore, plays a critical role in the hiring of a new president. In the interview below, Witt/Kieffer senior partner Zachary Smith considers the direct and indirect involvement…

Presidential Recruitment in Higher Ed: Advancement’s Role A conversation with Mercedes Vance and Suzanne Teer
Presidential Recruitment in Higher Ed: Advancement’s Role A conversation with Mercedes Vance and Suzanne Teer" data-count="horizontal">

A chief advancement officer in higher education tends to be very well connected on campus, and certainly off campus as well with important alumni, donors, and community leaders. Because the advancement executive has relationships with such important constituents, he/she becomes an important figure in the recruitment of a new president. In the interview below, Witt/Kieffer’s Mercedes Vance and Suzanne Teer shed light on the advancement officer’s role as a new president is selected…

Recruiting Presidents for HBCUs


Historically black colleges and universities are fundamental to U.S. higher education. The more than 100 HBCUs were pioneering institutions in their states and regions and have been bastions of opportunity. Recognizing their significance, the federal government has recently increased funding for these schools.

Presidential searches for HBCUs are competitive affairs among candidates who grasp the historical and cultural gravity of the role as well as the academic prestige. Witt/Kieffer senior partner Oliver B. Tomlin, III has led…

Can Coaching Help College Presidents?

It’s lonely and tough at the top of the higher education administrative ladder. College and university presidents have more on their plates, and with greater consequences, than ever before. Many presidents are now turning to leadership coaches for support.

Witt/Kieffer recently conducted an online survey of more than 60 presidents on their experience with and thoughts about leadership coaching. More than half of these had experienced coaching at some point in their…

When a New President Comes to Campus: Finding Opportunity in Career Transition

When a new college or university president is hired, it is a time of hope and excitement on campus. It can be a time of uncertainty for campus administrators, who must gauge how they will fit in and fare with the new leader. For a variety of reasons, some administrators will find themselves left out of the new administration’s plans – in other words, “off the team” and unemployed.

Witt/Kieffer senior partner Lucy Leske spoke recently with…

Should Students Be Represented on Presidential Search Committees?

When a college or university undertakes a presidential search, a question that arises is whether to invite one or more students to sit on the search committee. There is no firm rule, yet Witt/Kieffer senior partner Dennis Barden believes it makes sense. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Barden asserts that having students on the committee acknowledges them as essential constituents in a very important decision.

Besides, students have…

Karla Hughes: A Story of Preparedness, Perseverance and Passion

Karla Hughes, PhD, brings a wealth of experience to her current role as chancellor at the University of Arkansas at Monticello – the first female to lead a four-year university in that state’s system. Her successes are noteworthy for someone who at a young age was not destined for higher education. What shaped Karla as a leader?

Below is an abbreviated version of our conversation with Dr. Hughes.


Leadership Interviews: Anticipate the Inevitable Tough Questions

By Sheila Murphy

  • “Should we become a sanctuary campus?”
  • “Do you believe we have achieved gender equity in higher ed?”
  • “What’s your position on inviting extremist speakers?”

As a long-time academic as well as executive search consultant, I’ve noticed how highly charged and over-simplified questions often surface in candidate interviews with search committees, campus leaders, donors, students or even the media. Some of these questions have…

Advice for Advancement Leaders Who Lack Fundraising Experience


Under pressure to close funding gaps through bigger and broader donor campaigns, colleges and universities often lean toward hiring advancement leaders with resumes that include proven fundraising success. In fact, a candidate’s fundraising experience can now matter most to many hiring committees.

Mercedes Chacon Vance, who leads Witt/Kieffer’s higher education advancement team, acknowledges the frustration this creates for many alumni relations and other professionals looking to advance their careers but who do not have significant fundraising backgrounds. In a recent…