Advisory Committee Report

April 14, 2020

A key element of Case Western Reserve University’s presidential search is to actively engage our campus and alumni communities. I am grateful to the Presidential Search Advisory Committee for its outstanding work and exceptional efforts in achieving this goal. This report reflects the Committee’s significant time, effort, and collaboration, and I thank faculty, staff, students, and alumni for their participation in the town halls and surveys that will assist us in identifying our next president. 

—Fred DiSanto, Board of Trustees Chair-Elect and Presidential Search Committee Chair

Charge to the Presidential Search Advisory Committee

On February 14, 2020, Fred DiSanto charged the Presidential Search Advisory Committee to engage campus and alumni communities in the search process. He asked the Advisory Committee to gather perspectives and insights regarding the university’s current challenges and opportunities, priorities the next president should address, and the preferred experience, leadership capabilities, and personal attributes this leader should possess. He also asked that the Presidential Search Advisory Committee present the Presidential Search Committee with a report of its findings (initially by March 31, later extended to April 14 because of the COVID-19 pandemic).

Selected from a pool of more than 330 nominations, the Presidential Search Advisory Committee included 23 members representing faculty, staff, students, and emeriti trustees. Its co-chairs were Professor Betsy Bolman, Chair of the Department of Art History and Art, and Professor Anant Madabhushi from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, who also serve on the Search Committee. Gina Maldonado-Powers, Assistant Director of Student Advancement for the Student Success Initiative, and Dominic Parisi, Assistant Director of Employment in the Department of Human Resources, served as Advisory Committee co-vice chairs. A full list of Advisory Committee members is at the end of this report


The Advisory Committee gathered community perspectives through town hall meetings across campus and with alumni groups; conversations with colleagues; and surveys of faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Based on DiSanto’s charge, the Advisory Committee developed a common set of questions to pose in their town halls and surveys. The Advisory Committee’s town halls started on February 17, 2020 and went through April 1, 2020. (In response to university and state directives to reduce public health risks, the Advisory Committee transitioned from in-person to virtual town halls starting March 11). Individuals took detailed notes at each town hall. 

The Advisory Committee sent out its online surveys on March 9, allowing respondents to provide anonymous input and feedback. Given the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Advisory Committee later extended its deadline into April.

The Advisory Committee members found the opportunity to meet and engage with a wide cross-section of campus and alumni communities stimulating and enlightening. In all, nine town hall meetings were held in person, while 15 were conducted either by phone or through Zoom videoconferencing. The conversations showed that constituencies care deeply about the university, appreciate its history, and envision a bold future for it. From emeriti trustees who have been a part of the university community for decades to staff and students who have been on campus for just a few years, Advisory Committee members heard new perspectives and ideas through significant and sustained stakeholder engagement. 

The Advisory Committee members reviewed and discussed the input they gathered from the town hall meetings and the surveys. While this report cannot capture every single thought expressed by the larger community, it nevertheless represents common themes articulated in stakeholder meetings, survey responses, and in individual emails and conversations. The Advisory Committee heard both similar and very different ideas. Therefore, as it should, this report represents both consensus and conflicting opinions. 

By the Numbers

Hour-long Town Hall Meetings: 24

Total Attendance: About 350, including faculty, staff, students, and alumni 

Total Survey Responses: 1,218

  • Faculty Responses: 212
  • Staff Responses: 224
  • Student Responses: 263
  • Alumni Responses: 519

Views of the Presidential Search Website: 3,358 

Findings: Who We Are

Case Western Reserve is a leading research university with a distinguished reputation and a strong history of innovation and interdisciplinary research. The university serves as an anchor in Cleveland’s vibrant and high-profile biomedical research ecosystem and is within walking distance of Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center (the third largest such center in the country). Case Western Reserve is on an upward trajectory, rising in rankings overall and steadily increasing its already high standards for incoming undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. As one example, the university ranked 17th in “Top 100 Worldwide Universities Granted US Utility Patents” in 2018. Its undergraduate enrollment has climbed to 5,500 from 3,500 just a few years ago, while maintaining the robust size of its graduate programs.

Case Western Reserve benefits from a collaborative and collegial culture, as well as strong enthusiasm for its shared governance structure that includes the Board of Trustees, the president, the provost, and the Faculty Senate. Alumni and community support for the university is tremendous, as witnessed by the recent, successful $1.82 billion capital campaign. The university’s alumni are major influencers nationally and internationally across a wide range of disciplines. Faculty are at the top of their fields, as evidenced by the number of distinguished awards and grants they have received, including from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the American Academy in Rome.  

Demonstrating their deep compassion, significant expertise, and innovative spirit, faculty, staff, and students have joined together across the university to engage in research related to COVID-19, to create Personal Protective Equipment for first responders, and to support health care workers fighting this pandemic on the front lines. 

Case Western Reserve is a place where exceptional things happen, from the Health Education Campus with Cleveland Clinic that brings together students from our nursing, dental medicine and medical schools, including Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve’s School of Medicine, to the use of Microsoft HoloLens mixed-reality headsets that are transforming students' learning experiences in anatomy, art history, and dance. Faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members lead innovation at Case Western Reserve’s state-of-the-art entrepreneurial and maker space, the Larry Sears and Sally Zlotnick Sears think[box]. The university’s Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities hosts an annual, region-wide Humanities Festival on subjects as pertinent as war, immigration, health, and truth. The Baker-Nord Center supports research and teaching in the humanities, and funds summer internships for undergraduates. All Case Western Reserve students have remarkable opportunities for engagement in cutting-edge research and experiential learning across disciplines, schools and colleges. 

Case Western Reserve has a bold strategic plan, Think Big. It describes the university as “a high-impact research university that aspires to be a community where humanity, science and technology meet to create a just and thriving world.” The plan details four interlinked pathways to reach our aspirations and allow us to become more interconnected with each other and with our surrounding communities. It also emphasizes that we believe in valuing how our campus, community, and world treat and reflect one another. In a future where technology is a key driver, the need to focus on our human interactions is ever more necessary.

While Case Western Reserve continues to work on further enhancing the diversity of its campus community, it has won national awards, such as the Insight into Diversity Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award for the last eight years, for its leadership in supporting diversity through its Office of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equal Opportunity, an Office of Multicultural Affairs, a LGBT Center, and the Flora Stone Mather Center for Women. Case Western Reserve supports enhancing the diversity of the student body, as exemplified by our engagement with the Posse Foundation, by providing full-tuition scholarships to admitted students from the Cleveland Municipal School District and East Cleveland, and by collaborating with Cuyahoga Community College and the Mellon Foundation to assist its students in earning their bachelor’s degrees from our university.

Case Western Reserve’s location in University Circle is a phenomenal asset, with world-class neighbors such as the Cleveland Museum of Art and The Cleveland Orchestra, among many others. The city of Cleveland is also on the rise, with the country’s second-largest theater district, superior restaurants, and lively sports and arts scenes. The cost of living is low, and the location of Cleveland on Lake Erie, with beautiful parks in and around the urban area, makes it an exceptionally appealing destination to live, work, and play. All of these factors combine to attract leading faculty, talented staff, and academically accomplished students. 

Findings: Desirable Background and Characteristics of the Next President

Discussions about the preferred background of the next president elicited diverse responses.

Overall, the university community agreed that our next president should be a visionary and an inspiring and nimble thinker. This person should have the capacity to see opportunities for the university in the rapidly changing realities of the twenty-first century as well as the landscape of higher education and research. The next president should be an ethical leader with emotional intelligence who is committed to transparency and accessibility. S/he/they should have a deep commitment to enhancing our already diverse campus, and also have experience engaging with the many constituencies that comprise a large and complex university: the board, faculty, staff, students, alumni, neighboring communities, and partners locally, nationally and internationally. The next president should be an excellent problem solver, who has a consistent record of fiscal responsibility and of building strong leadership teams. The individual should also be approachable, be eager to enhance our collaborations with our neighbors and to create new ones, and be media savvy.

While all think that the next leader needs to be a stellar fundraiser, some divergence of opinion exists over what their precise professional background should be. A large percentage believe that the president needs to have sterling academic credentials with a strong research background, and a significant subset of this group sees extensive experience with academic medicine as being an essential priority. Another group sees a person with a non-traditional background, perhaps in business or industry, who has had marked entrepreneurial successes, as being a good fit for the university.

Findings: Opportunities and Priorities

The Case Western Reserve community appreciates the value of the spectacular new buildings and green spaces that now grace our campus, and also acknowledges a need for increased financial support for faculty, graduate and professional student stipends, research, and research infrastructure across campus, to enable us to continue to thrive and to grow. In particular, many research laboratories, faculty offices, and classroom spaces require refurbishment. There is also consensus that the university needs additional resources to attract and retain faculty members. 

Additional attention and financial support are needed for the humanities and social sciences, which are essential for students’ future successes and adaptability as well as for Case Western Reserve’s reputation as a liberal arts institution. Endeavors to break down silos and other impediments to interdisciplinary collaboration are underway, but need ongoing attention. 

The successful functioning of the university is attributable to it remarkable staff. Across campus staff expressed the need for improved compensation and more opportunities for careers advancement and professional development. Likewise, postdocs recommended a review and enhancement of their experiences. 

While, as mentioned above, the university has an excellent track record in supporting diversity, more needs to be done to increase numbers of underrepresented minorities and LGBTQ people, and to improve the campus climate for them. The development of targeted mentorship structures is desirable. 

Graduate students are a large part of the campus community, but they would like more support to function as a cohesive group. Student mental health services have improved tremendously in recent years, but there is still room for enhancement. As elsewhere in higher education, enduring concern exists about the high cost of tuition, room, and board. Students want a Student Identity Center to provide more and better space that honors the individual through specific affinity groups and celebrates the collective by providing a vibrant hub where students can hang out, participate in culturally supportive programming, receive support services, and build community. There is also acknowledgement for the need to promote school pride and spirit. 

CWRU has historic collaborations with such area institutions as the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Western Reserve Historical Society, as well as the Cleveland Playhouse and Playhouse Square. Even so, tremendous potential exists for closer associations with these organizations and others, such as the Cleveland Botanical Garden, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. On a similar note, while a strong and historic culture of biomedical research and scientific collaborations exists between the university and its medical partners, more can be done to build on these existing partnerships and strengthen them further. An opportunity also exists to enhance and expand our role in the larger ecosystem of Cleveland and Ohio, from the perspectives of civic and corporate institutions. Local, regional, national, and international ties need nurturing and enhancement to increase our reputation and to continue to attract the best faculty, students, and staff.


The Advisory Committee would like to thank the faculty, staff, students, and alumni who participated in town halls, took the surveys, and communicated their views in other ways. This level of commitment to the future of Case Western Reserve is itself a key attribute of our great institution. The Advisory Committee members have been honored to lead and participate in gathering feedback to support the presidential search. With delivery of this report on April 14, 2020, they complete their work. 

Presidential Search Advisory Committee

  • Bolu Ajiboye, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Case School of Engineering
  • Amy Backus, Director of Athletics, Chair, Department of Physical Education
  • Elizabeth Bolman, PhD, Co-Chair of the Advisory Committee, Elise B. Smith Professor in the Liberal Arts, Professor and Chair, Department of Art History and Art, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Michael Dolsak, Vice President for Health Sciences Development
  • Thalia Dorwick, PhD, Emerita Trustee, Editor-in-Chief (retired), Humanities, Social Sciences and Languages, McGraw Hill Higher Education
  • Marin Exler, Undergraduate Student, President, Undergraduate Student Government
  • Agata Exner, PhD, Professor, Department of Radiology, School of Medicine
  • Jenny Hawkins, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, Weatherhead School of Management
  • Ronald L. Hickman, Jr., PhD, RN, ACNP-BC, FAAN, Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Research, Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing
  • Sharona Hoffman, JD, LLM, SJD, Edgar A. Hahn Professor of Law, Co-Director of the Law-Medicine Center, School of Law
  • Catherine Jayapandian, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Case School of Engineering
  • James W. Kazura, MD, Distinguished University Professor, Adel A. Mahmoud Professor in Global Health and Vaccinology, Department of Pathology and Director, Center for Global Health & Diseases, School of Medicine
  • Joseph Keithley, Emeritus Trustee, Former Chairman of the Board, President and CEO, Keithley Instruments, Inc. 
  • Anant Madabhushi, PhD, Co-Chair of the Advisory Committee, F. Alex Nason Professor II, Department of Biomedical Engineering and Director, Center for Computational Imaging and Personalized Diagnostics, Case School of Engineering
  • Gina Maldonado-Powers, Co-Vice Chair of the Advisory Committee; Assistant Director, Student Advancement
  • Ashley Mulryan, Law Student, President of the Graduate Student Council
  • Pushpa Pandiyan, Associate Professor, Biological Sciences, School of Dental Medicine
  • Dominic Parisi, Co-Vice Chair of the Advisory Committee, Assistant Director of Employment, Department of Human Resources 
  • Dana Prince, PhD, Assistant Professor, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences
  • David Rothenberg, PhD. Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Music, College of Arts and Sciences 
  • Krystina Schmidt, Executive Director of Student Financial Services
  • Nsisong Udosen, Undergraduate Student, Executive President, Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative
  • Joachim Voss, PhD, RN, ACRN, FAAN, Professor, Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, and Vice Chair of Faculty Senate