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Community leaders express doubts about Boise State's president search, candidates

BSU President Search: Jack Thomas

Jack Thomas, one of the five finalists for the Boise State president’s position, visited BSU campus on April 26. The president of Western Illinois University, he says he can take BSU from good to great.
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Jack Thomas, one of the five finalists for the Boise State president’s position, visited BSU campus on April 26. The president of Western Illinois University, he says he can take BSU from good to great.

The search for the new Boise State University president is moving forward, despite concerns from some search committee members, community and business leaders, and university supporters that the recruiting firm did not bring forward candidates up to the challenge of replacing retiring President Bob Kustra.

These people have been quietly critical of AGB Search, the company hired by the Idaho Board of Education to run the search, saying that the pool of presidential candidates for BSU was not strong or deep enough to begin with.

State Board of Education President Linda Clark said she is both aware of and frustrated by the concerns.

“We take the concerns seriously,” Clark said. “But it’s important to see the process through."

The firm the board hired to find a president for the state's largest university also conducted searches for presidents at Lewis-Clark State College and Idaho State University simultaneously. All three searches occurred over the past seven months.

The Boise State search committee that included State Board members and university and community leaders winnowed the original 53 applicants to 12 semifinalists, and then to five finalists, each of whom visited Boise in late April.

Three finalists — James Lentini, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at Oakland University; Kevin Reynolds, vice president for finance and administration at Portland State University; and Daniel Weeks, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Northern British Columbia — will be interviewed by the board on May 16. The board would announce its decision after that.

Two finalists, Robbyn Wacker of Northern Colorado University and Jack Thomas of Western Illinois University, withdrew.

“I personally think the candidate pool was very strong,” Clark said. “But there were some on the committee who wanted someone from the business sector, not the presidents and provosts who typically apply for these positions.”

Several people familiar with the search process spoke with the Idaho Statesman on condition that they not be identified. Their primary concerns are:

  • The process was rushed. The active search didn't start until February.

  • AGB Search's connections are with smaller universities. The firm is not high-powered enough to find candidates for a growing, comprehensive university like BSU.
  • Though the five finalists are accomplished in their careers, they are not dynamic enough or experienced enough to successfully build on the legacy that Kustra leaves after his 15 years at Boise State.

Kustra's selection was a product of a search conducted by Korn Ferry, a high-powered executive search firm and international leadership think tank. He was one of four finalists to visit Boise in 2003 and, according to Idaho Statesman reports at the time, was a clear front-runner.

Under Kustra's leadership, the university has grown its national profile academically and athletically, especially its nationally ranked football program. Enrollment has increased from about 18,500 to 24,000. New majors and master's programs were added. He created a focus on research, and expanded the campus with new state-of-the-art facilities for environmental sciences, engineering, fine arts and more.

It all makes Kustra, who announced his retirement in November 2017, a tough act to follow. His departure date is June 30.

The next BSU president will need to be a true visionary to continue the university's growth, Clark said.

“We need to get the strongest candidate who can to take BSU to the next level,” Clark said. "If we find them in the first round, great. If we don’t, we’re going to keep looking.”

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