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Regents announce Sethuraman Panchanathan and Robert Robbins as candidates for 22nd UA presidency

UA+Presidential+Search+Advisory+Committee+Chair+Bill+Ridenour+speaks+to+fellow+committee+members+at+the+first+meeting+on+Thursday%2C+Oct.+13%2C+2016.+The+committee+spoke+about+the+importance+of+confidentiality+from+the+searchs+onset.
Carmen Valencia

UA Presidential Search Advisory Committee Chair Bill Ridenour speaks to fellow committee members at the first meeting on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016. The committee spoke about the importance of confidentiality from the search’s onset.

PHOENIX—The Arizona Board of Regents announced two final candidates in the search for the next UA president during a special board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at their downtown Phoenix offices.

Sethuraman Panchanathan of Arizona State University and Robert Robbins of the Texas Medical Center were named after a search that Regent Ron Shoopman described as “exhausting.”

RELATED: ‘Wrong on the law’: Experts say UA presidential search confidentiality contrary to public interest, damaging to democracy

Regents president Eileen Klein said these two candidates most closely matched the board’s requirements for the incoming president, but moving forward the board will be looking for the candidate that sets themselves apart in their cooperation with the board and the other state universities.

“It’s going to be important to see … which one of them has that set of capabilities and experience to really lead the university forward,” Klein said. “There’s been a lot of input from the community, from faculty, from students and staff about what they want to see in the next leader—so that’s really the sorting process that the board needs to go through.”

The board will be formally interviewing the candidates on March 6, with an in-person campus visit scheduled for March 8. Shoopman added it is very likely the board would narrow the search down to one finalist during the March 6 interview process.

The successful finalist would then be invited to a March 8 campus visit.

This will be the second UA presidential search in a row in which the regents invite only a singular candidate to visit campus and formally interact with students. This practice began with the appointment of President Ann Weaver Hart, who was the first president to be named without a campus visit since at least 1971.

According to Shoopman, the practice of prospective presidents visiting a university campus prior to their selection is a dying one. He said most search firms actually recommend to their clients—in this case the regents—that only one candidate ever be officially brought to campus.

Shoopman said the regents questioned the purpose of having more than one candidate interact with students, faculty and the greater community when it ultimately is the regents job to make the selection. He added that the regents’ hired executive search firm, R. William Funk and Associates, urged the board to forgo the campus visit until a finalist is selected.

“The way we were thinking about it is: ‘What is the purposes for the campus to be able to see and interact with the individual that’s about to be voted on by the board?’” Shoopman said. “So if you make [the selection] look like a choice, you know, the job of making that selection is the regents’. So that’s where it gets difficult to decide how to do that in the most effective way.”

Not everyone agrees with the regents’ sentiment, though.

“I think, for the candidates sake if not for the public’s sake, [not having a campus visit] wouldn’t be a particularly great move,” said Arizona Sen. David Bradley in a prior interview with the Daily Wildcat. “That wouldn’t make much sense to me.”

Shoopman said both candidates have visited campus multiple times both by their own accord during the search process and several times during their careers.

Panchanathan, more commonly known at ASU as “Panch,” is currently serving as the executive vice president and the chief research innovation officer of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise Development—a role responsible for the advancement of research, innovation and economic development.

Panchanathan declined to comment when contacted regarding his candidacy and instead directed the Wildcat’s request toward the regents.

Robbins is the president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas, and is an internationally recognized cardiac surgeon.

Robbins couldn’t be reached for comment at this time.

While the regents may select a finalist for the position in early March, the new president wouldn’t assume office until this summer.

Read the regents’ press release on the candidates here.


Follow Sam Gross on Twitter.


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