HUNTINGTON — Kenova native Brad Smith has been chosen to serve as Marshall University’s 38th president after a months-long national search.
The announcement was made Thursday morning at the bimonthly meeting of the university’s Board of Governors. Smith will follow current president Jerome Gilbert, who will leave the position at the end of the year.
The only candidate who attended Marshall, Smith was selected from more than 107 applicants who were narrowed down to five finalists in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the finalists toured the Marshall and Huntington communities before a search committee met last week to make its final recommendations.
Smith will be the first alumnus to serve as the university’s president.
Board Chairman Patrick Farrell said Smith faces the uphill battle of weighing financial stability while also looking at affordability for students and the adaptability of the university.
“The landscape of higher education is changing, and we knew we needed a leader who could adapt,” Farrell said, later adding, “there’s only one Brad Smith.”
Smith earned his bachelor’s degree from Marshall University and his master’s degree in management from Aquinas College, in Michigan. Before serving as the CEO of Intuit for 11 years, his career included leading global organizations through turnaround, transformation and high-growth environments. He is the executive chairman of the board of Intuit, chairman of the Nordstrom board and a board member of Momentive (formerly SurveyMonkey). He also formerly served on the board of Yahoo.
Smith has told The Herald-Dispatch that his history with Marshall inspired him to seek the position of president, stating that it was a combination of purpose and his ability to pay it forward. Although he built a career in Silicon Valley, he still has connections to West Virginia and frequently visits.
During his presidency, Smith said, he plans to have an empowered provost and to rely on deans and the Faculty Senate when making decisions. While the job description might differ from those in technology or business, Smith said, it will be similar to a model he has followed in Silicon Valley.
He said he also hopes to grow the university’s relationship with the Huntington community, and Appalachia as a whole.
Smith said the school is going to have to adapt and innovate but that developing a vision is a team effort. He said he knows the university will have to make bold choices, and that starts with having the right mindset. There are three things that encompasses, he said: Dream bigger, deliver faster and define excellence.
“We need to punch above our weight, and we need to reach for the stars,” he said.
He said he will make some mistakes but that’s how people learn. He said the school will need to try some things, and not all will work.
“Excellence is having the courage to get caught learning,” he said.
West Virginia University President Gordon Gee said he looks forward to building on the collaborations already established with Smith and “to creating new opportunities that will benefit our shared vision and the missions of our respective universities.”
Smith’s nomination did not come without controversy. He was the only business CEO among a field of experts in higher education. He also has made significant donations to Marshall and its College of Business — more than $35 million; to West Virginia University — $25 million; and to West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, donating $10,000 to the governor’s inaugural committee.
West Virginia Ethics Commission Executive Director Kim Weber had said no ethical complications would arise if Smith were to be appointed. A donor may be hired to a state university, although favoritism cannot be a factor in the hiring, Weber said.
Last week, a university Student Government Association senator had asked her peers to pass a resolution asking the board to reconsider Smith as a presidential candidate, but the resolution failed, 13-1.
Smith’s name also appeared in text messages sent by Board of Governors member Chris Miller to Huntington City Council Chairman Mike Shockley. In them, Miller advocated for a specific candidate to be appointed to a vacant City Council position, stating that Smith liked the candidate for the post. Smith, however, denies that he had any involvement in the situation.
As a half-dozen students gathered outside his introduction ceremony at the Joan C. Edwards Playhouse on Thursday in protest of the selection, Smith thanked his supporters, but also those against him, who he said will make him a better president because of their perspectives giving him a new point of view.
The four other finalists for the position came from academic backgrounds. They were: Bernard Arulanandam, vice president for research, economic development and knowledge enterprise, University of Texas at San Antonio; Bret Danilowicz, provost and vice president for academic affairs, Florida Atlantic University; Robyn Hannigan, provost, Clarkson University; and Kathy Johnson, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.