Marshall University — the institution most closely identified with Huntington, Cabell County and the Tri-State region — is looking for a new president. Jerome Gilbert, who has been president since January 2016, notified the university’s Board of Governors in April that he will not seek an extension of his contract, which expires July 15, 2022.
This is one decision the Board of Governors and the state officials who influence it cannot afford to get wrong.
Gilbert announced his decision “to define the endpoint of my term as president of Marshall University” in an email message to students and employees on April 28. He said he made his decision “[f]or a variety of personal and professional reasons,” which he did not specify.
At its meeting last week, the Board of Governors voted to approve the process to find Gilbert’s replacement. The board plans to have a search firm selected by the beginning of July, and then begin listening sessions with campus constituencies to compile a presidential search profile. Candidate interviews will begin in the fall.
The goal is to have a new president selected by the end of October. Gilbert will serve out his contract until July 2022.
Undoubtedly Gov. Jim Justice will have a say in the process. He appoints members to the Board of Governors, and it’s not unknown for the state’s chief executive to influence — and sometimes meddle in for political purposes — or even take it upon himself to make high-profile hiring decisions at the state’s universities.
There will be much more to say about the search as the committee is formed, stakeholder meetings are conducted and gossip about behind-the-scenes activity circulates around town.
This time next year, the executive management of Marshall will have a new president, provost and athletic director. That’s a significant turnover, and the process for filling those slots will affect the university and this part of the state for years to come.
Board of Governors Chairman Patrick Farrell said last week that board members want the presidential selection process to be the most transparent search ever done at the university. He should be held to those words.
Marshall is the primary economic entity in Huntington. With its campus at South Charleston and its new School of Aviation at Yeager Airport in Charleston, its reach extends into the Kanawha Valley also. Marshall needs a president with a vision for growth and one who can deal with competing demands from the school’s many constituencies. The president also must be able to deal with the politics that comes with leading the state’s second-largest university.
Whoever is chosen for this job must be the right person chosen for the right reason. Let the transparent process begin.