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Rose-Hulman looks ahead: Search for new president could take a year

June 20, 2005

But trustees currently have a higher priority: Let the dust settle.

"It's only been a couple of days," said Rose-Hulman Chairman Robert Bright. "Nothing's been established for sure yet."

It took the Terre Haute engineering school 10 months to find and narrow the field of 60 candidates that produced Midgley-nearly the length of his presidential stint. Most expect the search for his successor to last at least as long.

In the meantime, Rose-Hulman has a more pressing task. It must prepare its accreditation renewal application for the Baltimore-based Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

Due once every six years, the application is a major project. As the engineering industry's standard, ABET accreditation requires a comprehensive evaluation of an engineering program's curriculum, the qualifications of its faculty, and the outcomes of its courses.

Rose-Hulman's next review is slated for next summer.

"Most institutions will spend probably a year preparing that document," said ABET Accreditation Director Dan Hodge. "It's an extensive document. There's a lot of detail. It's not a trivial undertaking."

Succession plan

As a practical day-to-day matter, Bright is serving as Midgley's temporary replacement. A 1957 Rose-Hulman graduate, Bright, 69, had a 37-year career with St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M. He retired as vice president of electrical specialties. In 1991, he became a Rose-Hulman trustee. The trustees elevated him to chairman just a few weeks ago.

Bright is leading the hunt for an interim president. He said it's too early to talk specifics about how the search will be conducted. The same answer goes for pursuit of Midgley's permanent replacement.

"We are not casting in stone any timetables at this point in time," Bright said. 'We're going to pick the best person, based on what we feel are the needs."

Midgley did not respond to requests for comment on his resignation. And Bright declined to offer a reason Midgley didn't work out as president, or to talk about the terms of any severance pay extended to him.

Rose-Hulman's IRS filings aren't yet available for the 2004-2005 academic year. But previous filings show that Midgley's predecessor, Samuel Hulbert, earned total compensation of $403,605 his last year on the job.

Rose-Hulman will likely name an interim president from within its own ranks fairly quickly, said Jon McRae, president of Atlanta-based Jon McRae & Associates Inc., a consultancy that specializes in executive searches for educational institutions. Then it can concentrate on a national search and place a permanent leader by mid-2006.

With its prestigious reputation, McRae said, Rose-Hulman should have no trouble finding candidates.

"That's a good school and they will get a good president," he said.

Rose-Hulman's last presidential search included an outside consultant and a 17-member search committee of trustees, faculty, students, staff and alumni. Of the four finalists, only Midgley came from a business background. The rest were educators.

According to published reports at the time, the others were Marek Dollar, dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio; Allen Soyster, dean of engineering at Northeastern University in Boston; and Timothy J. Greene, then-dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Greene has since moved on to Kalamazoo, Mich.-based Western Michigan University's College of Engineering.

"They took a chance and it didn't work," McRae said. "My guess is they'll perhaps go back to the more traditional model."

Accreditation renewal

Formed in 1932 by professional engineering societies, ABET accredits 1,700 engineering programs at 350 U.S. schools. Before they'll grant professional engineering licenses, most states require candidates to show credentials from an ABET-accredited university. Many major engineering employers also demand it, Hodge said.

"We basically assure the quality of the program, that the graduates of the program are ready to enter their profession," he said.

By July 2006, Rose-Hulman will have to submit a report showing how students are admitted and advised; how they transfer credits; how they're assessed; and what abilities they'll have upon graduation.

In a written statement to IBJ, Rose-Hulman Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty Art Western said the school continually prepares for ABET. Academic departments have already written their first drafts for ABET's 2006 evaluation, he said.

"Accreditation is based on continual evaluation of student outcomes with results feeding back into the instructional process, leading to the next cycle of evaluation and refinement," Western wrote.

Rose-Hulman Ventures

It was Midgley's plan to reorganize business incubator Rose-Hulman Ventures that first brought complaints about his management style to surface. In January, RHV President Jim Eifert and Vice President Brij Khorana resigned in response to Midgley's ideas to check the incubator's costs. Thanks to $60 million in grants from Lilly Endowment Inc., Rose-Hulman Ventures had been the bestfunded business incubator in the country.

Eifert did not respond to a request for an interview. But Khorana, 66, who took early retirement after more than 27 years at Rose-Hulman, said he's been fielding numerous offers from around the globe. Venture capitalists and other business incubators are eager for his assistance, he said, and he's even received one offer to become a university president.

Preparing for a long-planned move to South Carolina, Khorana said he'll likely work as a consultant with more than one business incubation program. But he hasn't forgotten Rose-Hulman.

"Rose-Hulman is still very important to me," he said. "Even though I've retired, I'll do whatever I possibly can to help its programs and its national image."

Although grants from Lilly Endowment originally staked it, Rose-Hulman Ventures had what Khorana still considers a viable and self-sustaining business plan. Founded in 1999, it traded small infusions of cash or the services of Rose-Hulman professors and students for equity in startup companies. Several of its startups, such as NoInk Communications or Suros Surgical Systems, have already proved successful.

"I personally am very convinced about that model," Khorana said. "That is why whoever has approached me from other places, whether in the U.S. or other countries, I have shown my enthusiasm for it and willingness to help implement some of those concepts."

Public relations

Unused to intense media scrutiny, let alone the highly charged emotional atmosphere of a campus in protest, most Rose-Hulman leaders are happy to close the book on Midgley. Whether they supported him or not, they long for the days when press reports focused on the school's high academic rankings.

Cary Laxer, head of the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, offered a typical response when asked for comment.

"I think enough's been said already," he said. "Thank you."

But those who do speak urge patience.

"I would sincerely hope we take some time to form a search committee and not rush into something," said Frederick Berry, head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "Everyone has to catch their breath. A lot's happened."

Berry hopes Midgley's successor will have a better understanding of what makes Rose-Hulman special.

"We are an academic institution. We are not a business," he said. "Even though we all have profit and loss, an academic institution isn't run like a business."

Such sentiments were at the heart of the resistance to Midgley. His predecessor, Hulbert, was Rose-Hulman's president for nearly three decades. That would be a hard act for anyone to follow, said Ball State University President Jo Ann Gora.

Ironically, Midgley may have smoothed some of the bumps for his successor.

"Frankly, the person who follows Jack will probably have a much easier time," Gora said. "People have come to terms that there's going to be a new person in their president's office, and that person is going to have a different style."

Rose-Hulman can be expected to take every care as it screens candidates. But retiring University of Indianapolis President Jerry Israel said even the best process can't guarantee a leader will be embraced.

"At the end of the day, until you've actually worked with the person, you don't know how well it's going to work out," Israel said. "There's no question certain people fit certain situations better than others. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes it's not a perfect fit."

It may seem to some that recent events have damaged Rose-Hulman's reputation. But Israel expects any scars to quickly heal.

"You're talking about a school that's often rated the best engineering school in the country," he said. "It'll take a lot more than one incident to tarnish that."
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