The search to fill the role of university provost and executive vice president, which concluded with the appointing of Bruce McPheron on June 1, cost Ohio State University approximately $154,000 in fees to a private firm to aid with the search, records show.
McPheron, who had been the dean of the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at OSU since 2012, had been serving as the interim provost and executive vice president as the search process played out.
McPheron assumed the interim role in December, and OSU hired R. William Funk & Associates, an executive search company, in January.
According to an article published by the Dayton Daily News in January, public universities in Ohio have paid at least $15.5 million in payments to search firms since 2005 in their efforts to fill top positions.
With the three years of data provided by OSU for that story, reporter Lance Lambert calculated OSU’s tab at close to $4 million.
And when it comes to hiring candidates that are already employed by the universities using the search firm, “That happened somewhat often,” said Lambert, who is now at Bloomberg.
Lambert’s article noted that Miami University spent a similar amount in 2014 — $130,000 — on a search firm looking for its provost, though it ended up hiring an internal candidate, the dean of the university’s college of arts and science.
“(The universities) find these firms, and even after they find external candidates, if they don’t hire them, they still drop $100,000 to $400,000,” he said.
Conducting his research, Lambert said he found both critics and fans of using external firms, the use of which also shields the names of potential candidates from public access. By extension, that provides privacy for candidates, whose employers can’t see if they were entertaining other offers, which is critical to getting some to even consider new positions.
Search firms also have bigger networks of candidates to pull from during the search, Lambert said.
OSU spokeswoman Amy Murray defended the practice.
“Search firms that specialize in the task of recruiting university executives can extend the research and scope of a search in many ways,” Murray said in an email.
Murray broke the advantages that OSU sees from search firms down:
“(Search firms can) expand universities’ network and reach; bring expertise and experience with other land-grant universities; dedicate resources to effectively and efficiently reach candidates nationally; start the process with knowledge of highly qualified applicants for certain positions, including women and minority candidates,” she said.
A spokeswoman at R. William Funk & Associates referred a request for comment back to OSU.