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Best fit
UMW picks a new president

Date published: 4/13/2010

SOME COMMITTEE decisions produce camels, others fine race- horses. Count the unanimous decision by the University of Mary Washington Board of Visitors to tap Rick Hurley to become president of the university among the latter.

Mr. Hurley has stepped up to the plate when the school needed it most, after the 10-month tenure of William Frawley ended in termination and following the resignation, after just two years, of Mr. Frawley's successor, Judy Hample. In doing so, the former executive vice-president of the school provided continuity and that most indefinable of qualities, leadership.

University presidents must be multi-taskers, able to hire, fire, and inspire a top-rate faculty, able to handle administrative decisions, able to set a vision for a school, and able to be an advocate for the university on a state and national (and sometimes international) level. Most importantly, they must be able to relate to and lead students.

In all those areas, Mr. Hurley excels. With 10 years at UMW, plus 15 before that as vice president for administration and finance at Longwood College (now University), Mr. Hurley understands higher education in Virginia. He brings with him the institutional knowledge unique to UMW. And he has the support of both students and faculty.

He also proves an important point: Sometimes the right person for the job is already on the scene. When filling the presidency vacated by long-term leader William Anderson in 2006, the BOV turned to a national search firm for help. From the three names proffered, Mr. Frawley was chosen. A different search firm guided the school to Ms. Hample. In all, UMW has paid headhunters almost $500,000 to identify prospective candidates for a variety of administrative positions over the last few years.

But there are certain qualities--leadership style and institutional compatibility among them--that search firms can't necessarily identify. Perhaps that's why, according to BOV member Patricia Revere, there's a growing trend nationwide to groom university presidents from within.

Mr. Hurley says he plans to stay "until they tell me to leave or my health drives me out." That's good news for UMW. His appointment comes just in time: May 1 is the national day of decision for high school seniors picking the colleges they will attend in the fall. Those who are considering UMW can now be assured their university will have able, consistent leadership.