Take 5 with Nathaniel L. Bishop on Hiring the Next VCCS Chancellor

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Nathaniel L Bishop is the chair of the State Board for Community Colleges. He is leading a committee charged with hiring the next chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges. We had a chance to catch up with him about that work for the first VCCS Blog Take Five of 2022. NL Bishop

What’s the latest on the search process?

I would invite everyone to follow our work on the webpage that we have created just for this purpose. We have a progress tab that we will keep updated so that folks can follow along. We are talking with candidates from across the nation and taking nominations from trusted sources. I suppose you could say that we continue to cast a wide net to ensure that we consider as many qualified and experienced individuals as possible. Of course, winter weather and Covid-19 surges hold the potential to disrupt our schedule, but so far, we’re making just the sort of progress we hoped.

How do you feel about the candidates you’ve reviewed so far? The role of chancellor is both exciting and complicated. Does the role’s size and scope make it easier or harder to attract candidates?

As you see in the position description, the role of chancellor is a big, tough job. Candidly, not everyone is cut out for it. It’s hard to imagine that any one person is excellent in every single facet of the position, but the larger question is, how close does she, he, or they come to it? And yes, I believe that those who find the description intimidating and too much for them personally, are probably right.

That said, there’s a lot of talent out there. Community colleges, by and large, are 60 years old now. The sector has matured significantly and has really established itself as that unique, and critical, blend of higher education and workforce training. The candidates we have reviewed so far reflect that trend. They are diverse in terms of demographics, experience, and geography. They are strong advocates for the community college mission, even those whose experience with it is more from an outside perspective. And they are positive, optimistic leaders who see pathways to a brighter future for individuals, industries, and the broader community.

When are we going to meet the finalists for the job?

The process that we are using to find our next chancellor is not the same process we’ve been using to hire college presidents. That latter involves the State Board certifying finalists, and having them visit the college, giving both the candidates and the college communities a chance to experience each other.

Hiring a chancellor is different for several reasons. One, the caliber of candidates we seek are highly sought after by many organizations and they typically hold high level positions where they are today. Few are willing to introduce the uncertainty that would befall their current employer were they publicly identified as a finalist, instead of the finalist. Two, the VCCS chancellor serves the entire commonwealth. There is no practicable way to have final candidates get a sampling of more than eight million people, let alone the countless companies and industries with which she or he would be engaging. And, three, timing is a factor here. We are focused on having our new chancellor in place by July 1.

So, much like the process of hiring presidents of large universities, you will get to meet the new chancellor after she, he, or they are formally announced later this semester. And, of course, we’re looking forward to that new chancellor visiting colleges in the fall to get to know the terrific faculty and staff – and most importantly, students! – across our campuses.

Given that process, how can the search committee be certain that it is considering all the perspectives that it should in their deliberations?

That’s a good question. We were thoughtful in creating this search committee. It includes State Board members, faculty and employees, philanthropic leaders, business leaders, and students. We are trusting those individuals to bring to our work their unique perspectives and experiences to ensure that we don’t have any blind spots when we review candidates for the job.

We’ve also had meetings with several groups, like community college presidents, and business leaders from across Virginia, to understand the priorities they see for the next chancellor. These have been rich conversations that add to understanding of what skills and focus the next chancellor must have.

This inclusive process serves us well and ensures that we focus on the right priorities in reviewing candidates.

What’s been your biggest surprise, or epiphany, throughout this process?

It’s been eye opening to see how leaders want to come to Virginia to be part of our organization. Perhaps that shouldn’t surprise me; we see that frequently in folks from elsewhere we hire to be college presidents. The VCCS is seen as a system where great things happen, and people want to be part of that.

Glenn DuBois deserves a lot of credit for that. His twenty years as chancellor have been extraordinary and have dramatically elevated our national reputation. And credit also goes to Virginia’s overall success. Earning repeat best state for business titles, big economic development deals like HQ2 – those sorts of accolades paint a picture for people of a desirable place to live and work. So, we’re benefiting from all of that with the kind of candidates we see, and I believe we are going to find a terrific chancellor at the end of this process. I’m excited about it.

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