Faculty, Board Work to Name President McLean’s Successor
May 10, 2021
When Dr. Michael F. McLean announced that he would not seek a third term as president of Thomas Aquinas College, he set into motion a process that may be the only one of its kind in the United States.
Most American colleges and universities conduct nationwide, or even international, searches for their presidents, typically hiring the services of a headhunting firm for the task. Perhaps it should come as little surprise, though, that Thomas Aquinas College — which has a wholly unique academic program and largely eschews most popular trends in the modern academy — would conduct its presidential searches differently.
“At the time of our establishment in the late 1960s,” says Peter L. DeLuca, one of the College’s founders and its third president, “when many Catholic colleges were wavering in their mission, we sought to ensure that our future presidents would be committed to implementing the College’s founding principles in the classroom.” As such, the College’s bylaws require that its president be chosen from among senior members of the teaching faculty, so as to safeguard the institution’s Catholic character and its commitment to liberal education.
“It wouldn’t work for us to choose a president who has no firsthand experience of our academic program, or who regards the presidency as a stepping stone to office elsewhere,” says R. Scott Turicchi, chairman of the Thomas Aquinas College Board of Governors. “We therefore limit prospective candidates to Catholic tutors who have earned permanent appointment to the teaching faculty. We want presidents who understand that the academic program and formation of our students are paramount — all duties of the president serve these ends. We want a president who is committed to Thomas Aquinas College, and whose focus is on excellence in the classroom through fidelity to our mission and to the Teaching Church.”
Of course, to be a successful president one must have a thorough understanding of the academic program as well as an aptitude for the office’s administrative duties, which range from personnel to development to public speaking, public relations, and campus planning. “It’s not common for someone to possess all these gifts,” says Mr. Turicchi. “But our tutors, by virtue of their experience with liberal education, are usually dynamic and quick learners. For nearly 50 years, God has consistently provided TAC with presidents who are up to the challenges of the position.”
The process for choosing the new president began earlier this year, when the College’s Instruction Committee appointed a three-member Faculty Committee on Presidential Candidates, comprised of senior tutors drawn from both campuses, to determine suitable candidates. That committee then met personally with members of the faculty, tutors and administrators alike, to solicit their input and recommendations.
“Our interview process is thorough by design,” says John Baer, chairman of the Faculty Committee on Presidential Candidates. “The College’s founders wanted to ensure not only that new presidents are drawn from the faculty, but that they also have the support of the faculty. The process aims to protect the unity of the College by ensuring that whoever is elected has the approval of both the faculty and the Board.”
After completing their interviews, the committee’s members met with members of the faculty and presented two nominees. Faculty members were then permitted to make additional nominations, after which the entire body voted on the selection of two final candidates.
These two names, in turn, were presented to a committee of the Board of Governors, which is charged with interviewing the candidates extensively. The committee can choose between the two finalists or ask the faculty for more names to consider. Once the committee has arrived at its decision, it will present its recommendation to the entire Board for approval. The president-elect will then be able to work alongside Dr. McLean for the remainder of his term, which expires on June 30, 2022.
“Giving the new president some time to prepare for his new post will help ready him for office and smooth the transition for everyone,” says Mr. Turicchi. “It is a demanding and arduous job, but I am confident that, by God’s grace, we have a system in place that will allow us to choose the best person to fill it.”