The cost to find the next president of West Virginia State University is likely to exceed $90,000, according to the chairman of the school’s Board of Governors.
At its meeting last week, the Board awarded the search contract to AGB Search. In a bid document, the Washington, D.C.-based firm said its “search fee” is “to be determined based on industry-standard of one-third of the first-year salary of the appointed candidate.”
Departing WVSU President Anthony Jenkins has an annual salary of $255,000, one-third of which is $85,000. (Jenkins has other benefits, including a $1,200 monthly vehicle stipend, that aren’t used to calculate the search fee.)
Because WVSU is a member of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges — which founded AGB Search — the company will reduce the search fee by 3 percent.
But AGB Search also estimated that further search expenses — travel, food and lodging for two consultants, plus online and print advertising — would total $13,500.
All together, if those expense estimates hold and WVSU starts off paying its new president what it paid Jenkins, the search will cost $95,950. That doesn’t include possible travel expenses to bring in presidential candidates.
Board Chairman Chuck Jones wrote notes summarizing the Board of Governors Executive Committee’s brief closed-door discussion of search firms and why that committee recommended AGB Search.
The notes said AGB Search helped Marshall University hire its current president, Jerome Gilbert, and Fairmont State University hire its current president, Mirta Martin.
The board picked AGB Search over a firm that did the searches that brought Jenkins and his predecessor, Brian Hemphill, to Institute.
Jenkins, who said he had been getting messages from search firms twice a week to leave WVSU, will become president of Baltimore’s Coppin State University in May.
The number of post-high-school students enrolled in WVSU dropped by 20 percent during Jenkins’ four-year tenure, although large increases in high-schoolers taking WVSU courses kept the school level in overall credits taken.
WVSU’s number of full-time equivalent students — a measure that weighs full-time students more than part-timers and high-schoolers because full-timers take more classes — is just under 2,400, about 1 percent higher than when Jenkins started.
By contrast, when the 25,400-student Kanawha County school system asked the West Virginia School Board Association how much it would charge to search for a new schools superintendent, the School Board Association’s highest estimate was just $7,074 — including its fee and expenses.
But Kanawha’s Board of Education chose not to do a search. In divided votes, it instead promoted its deputy superintendent to superintendent without even posting the job for applicants.
University officials said WVSU solicited proposals from multiple search firms, and Jones provided a document showing six bidders.
Four had the same fee of one-third of the first-year salary. Harvard Group International would have charged $66,000 and Buffkin/Baker would have charged $100,000 but, according to the document, it erroneously referred to WVSU as WVU throughout its proposal.
After spending about 45 minutes in closed session Tuesday, the board voted 6-4 to hire AGB Search.
Jones didn’t vote and Vice Chairman Mark Kelley was absent Tuesday, but, the day before, both voted in the Executive Committee meeting to recommend AGB Search to the full board. So there were eight supporters in total.
The no votes were from former board president Bill Lipscomb, Kenneth Gray, Ann Brothers Smith and student representative Deja Smoot.
Lipscomb said he favored instead hiring Greenwood/Asher & Associates Inc., which did the searches for Jenkins and Hemphill. Its costs also started at one-third of the first-year salary, according to the document showing the bidders.
“They are very familiar with our campus community life and everything,” Lipscomb said. “They had done all this investigation previously, and they had brought us two excellent presidents. So it wasn’t so much voting against AGB, as it were. I would’ve rather seen the other.”
Jones noted that AGB Search promised to waive the one-third-of-salary search fee (but not new expenses) to redo the search if the new president leaves during his or her first year, while Greenwood/Asher only promised to do that if the board fired the new president for cause in his or her first year “for reasons that should have been identified” by Greenwood/Asher.
“That’s a significant difference,” Jones said.