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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
FILE "“ University of Utah President David Pershing speaks to media after a Board of Trustees meeting in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 25, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — Preparations for the search for a successor to University of Utah President David Pershing are underway but in the early stages, says Utah's commissioner of higher education.

Commissioner Dave Buhler met Thursday in an executive session with the U. board of trustees to lay the groundwork for the search committee, which will be co-chaired by a member of the board and a member of the board of regents under legislation passed by the Utah Legislature.

SB238, sponsored by Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, a former president of Weber State University, says the search committee will include regents, faculty members, staff, students, members of the U.'s board of trustees, alumni and members of the outgoing president's Cabinet.

Buhler said the legislation is part of larger bill on several higher education governance issues carried by Millner. With respect to searches for college and university presidents, the bill "mirrors our current practice," he said.

The work at hand is assembling the committee, Buhler said.

"I met with the (U.) board of trustees this past week. I'll be meeting with the Council of Deans, with the leadership of the Academic Senate and with the Cabinet to get all of their input who should be on the search committee. We'll have faculty, staff, a member of the Cabinet, regents, trustees, along with some community members. Alumni are community members, too," he said.

All told the group will be 20 to 25 members in size, Dan Campbell, chairman of the Utah State Board of Regents, said Friday.

Once the search committee is assembled, one of its first responsibilities is developing a job description. Buhler said a meeting will be conducted to allow members of the public to comment on qualities, attributes, educational background and experience the next president of the state's flagship institution should possess.

Under SB238, the search committee will forward finalists' names to the board of regents, which has statutory authority to hire the presidents of state colleges and universities, conduct their evaluations and terminate them.

On May 1, Pershing announced he will move up the date of his planned retirement amid turmoil over a power play for control of the Huntsman Cancer Institute that played out with the sudden firing — then reinstatement — of the institute's director and CEO, Mary Beckerle, followed by the resignation of the U.'s senior vice president of health sciences, Dr. Vivian Lee.

Pershing has offered to stay in the position until his successor is selected.

Under the new legislation, two-thirds of the search committee members, as verified by the commissioner, must "find the individual to be qualified and likely to succeed as an institution of higher education president" before forwarding the finalist to the board of regents for its consideration.

The president will be selected among the finalists presented by the search committee, but if the regents are not satisfied with the finalists, the board can direct the search committee to resume the search until it can present three finalists the board deems suitable.

The legislation also directs the board of regents, through the commissioner, to "create a comprehensive, active recruiting plan to ensure a strong, diverse pool of potential candidates."

Regent Harris Simmons, who was elected vice chairman of the board of regents on Friday, will co-chair the search committee along with U. trustee H. David Burton.

Simmons said the joint approach to the search helps ensure the institution's interests are represented as well as those of the system of higher education, such as seamless class credit transfers, successful transitions for students and making sure the entities "play well together in the sandbox."