IU ready to pick insider for president's job

February 26, 2007

Indiana University appears poised to choose an internal candidate as president for the first time since it elevated John Ryan to the post 35 years ago. The decision could be announced within days.

Two IU trustees confirmed that finalists include Michael McRobbie and Ora Pescovitz, IU administrators well-known to the Indianapolis business community. McRobbie, 56, is interim provost of IU Bloomington and vice president for academic affairs. Pescovitz, 50, is executive associate dean for research affairs at the IU School of Medicine as well as CEO of Riley Hospital for Children.

"I think both of them are eminently qualified," said trustee Philip Eskew, an Indianapolis doctor. "They're highly respected. We're blessed here. We have two great leaders, either of which we'd be happy with."

Trustee William Cast said that, in addition to McRobbie and Pescovitz, there are two other internal candidates, whom he declined to name. Three of the four, including McRobbie and Pescovitz, "would be high on any recruiter's list," he said.

IU has gone outside the university for its last three presidents--Thomas Ehrlich, Myles Brand and Adam Herbert, who last year announced he would not serve beyond June 2008, when his contract expires. Herbert, a Florida university administrator before assuming IU's presidency in 2004, was widely criticized as having too low a profile and taking too long to make decisions.

Cast said there are clear pluses to pulling a president from the school's ranks.

"One advantage to an inside person is knowledge," said Cast, a Fort Wayne doctor. "It saves a year or more in terms of getting the boat moving forward again."

The nine-person board of trustees will discuss candidates at its next regularly scheduled meeting, which is March 1-2 at IUPUI.

"The plan is, we'd like to announce something" at that time, Eskew said, cautioning that "things do change, however."

Eskew, director of physician and patient relations at St. Vincent Indianapolis Hospital, said the next president needs a background in research, something both McRobbie and Pescovitz have.

Neither McRobbie nor Pescovitz could be reached for comment.

McRobbie joined IU a decade ago as vice president of information technology. In 2003, he also became vice president of research. In that role, he was instrumental in securing multimillion-dollar grants for science initiatives. A year ago, he became interim provost and vice president of academic affairs. His annual salary is $285,600.

Pescovitz, who would be IU's first female president, joined IU 19 years ago. Before becoming CEO of Riley in 2004, she was the top dean of research at the medical school.

In her current post, Pescovitz oversees $210 million in annual grants to the medical school. She also administers the Indiana Genomics Initiative, a research project funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. Her annual salary is $258,500.

Herbert, the outgoing president, earns $359,600.

Eskew hinted the field of candidates from outside IU was disappointing, perhaps because an abundance of other major universities also are trying to fill vacancies.

Two other Big Ten universities are searching for presidents--Purdue and Ohio State--and Harvard University recently chose a new leader, its first female president.

"Competition has caused our search committee to not only look at what candidates are available outside, but also those within our system," Eskew said.

Outside candidates might not have been jumping at the chance to lead IU, he said.

"There are people that feel that we have not had a good run of presidents since John Ryan, so some candidates might be thinking that's not a job they want to apply for," he said. "We need to determine what we need to do. We must improve our image and roll out our life science initiative."

The Purdue post might be drawing more outside interest, he said, because of the perception that outgoing President Martin Jischke has done an outstanding job.

"Many would like to follow him," Eskew speculated.

Sue Talbot, chairwoman of the trustees' search committee, declined to discuss names of candidates. She did confirm that trustees still expect the new leader will be on board by July.

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