Letters to the Various Stakeholders in Academic Searches: Communication in the Online World

The more experience one gains in participating in academic searches for provosts, deans, department chairs, and directors, the more you appreciate just how critical communication is. One suspects this has always been true. The spread and growth of Christianity was made possible not only by the preaching of Paul but even more so by his epistles – letters – to congregations all about the Mediterranean.

Letters inform and assure. Writing in 1790 to the Touro congregation of Jews in Rhode Island, George Washington proclaimed, “May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other Inhabitants; while everyone shall sit  in safety under his own vine and tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

No less a figure than Abraham Lincoln penned a letter to Mrs. Bixby, mother of five sons who died while fighting for the Union in the Civil War, admitting “I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.”

In an age of instantaneous communication in which almost everyone can participate, the importance of timely, accurate communications is not only important but also requires careful planning and coordination. This is particularly so in the case of universities or academic medical centers undertaking to identify and recruit administrative leaders and hiring a search firm to conduct much of the development of a pool of qualified persons from which to employ a new administrator. Relationships between and among the parties – not only the university or center and the search firm but also potential and actual candidates and those selected and those not selected – are formed out of the search process, influence the conduct and consummation of the search, and create legacies, whether good or bad, that live on, in some cases long after the search itself is concluded.

With this in mind, we offer the reader a series of letters, each addressed to the various stakeholders involved in a search and all intended to illuminate how communication can be planned and coordinated to the mutual benefit of all parties. We begin with a letter to a prospective candidate.

Dear Dr. Prospective Candidate:

The University of Northern California seeks a new Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs to take office no later than July 1, 2018. These are exciting times at UNC and the next Provost will play a pivotal role in our future.

You were recommended to us as a person whose achievements, credentials and experience lend themselves well to the position of Provost here. For that reason, we wish to explore with your possible interest in this post.

I have the honor of serving as chair of the Provost search committee. The other members of the search committee are listed in Attachment A.

We are assisted in our work by the firm of Stanley & Livingston and Ms. Tajah Anakatty, who will be the primary point of contact until such time as a finalist is selected and negotiations ensue. At that point, President Evelyn Boyd will become the sole point of contact.

Attachment B is the Provost Position Profile. It includes detailed information about the position as well as information about the University, a timetable for the search process, and the protocol by which the search will be conducted. 

A word about the confidentiality of this search. As a public institution, we are bound by the policies of the Board of Regents. In particular, Board policy allows a designated third-party (in this case the search firm, Stanley & Livingston) to receive and keep confidential the names of all applicants, nominees, and candidates for executive-level positions until persons are invited to campus for meetings with various groups and individuals and actually accept the invitation. At that point, public notice must and will be made of the identity of finalists.

Over the next two weeks, Ms. Anakatty will contact your office to arrange a convenient time for you and her to chat about the Provost search. I hope you can accommodate that conversation. In the meantime, if you have questions, please feel to contact her at 404-662-8347 or tanakatty@lands.com.

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours truly,


Harry D. Justice, Ph.D., Chair

Provost Search Committee


Attachments:A. Provost Search Committee Members

B. Provost Position Profile


cc:T. Anakatty


Behind this sort of letter to prospective candidates is a series of discussions and agreements, not the least of which is an established policy and protocol for engaging the internal stakeholders of the university (the composition, structure and role of a search committee, possibly including alumni): faculty, staff, and students. To arrive at a point where such a letter can be provided potential candidates, the university administration and the search firm retained to assist will need to have sorted out who does what, when, how, and with whom under what authority. A start at reaching this point usually comes after the formal terms of a contract are agreed to, no small feat when, as in this case, the University is obliged to adhere to state procurement law.


Dear Mr. Livingston:


Enclosed, please find the approved contract by which the University of Northern California agrees to terms stipulated by the State of California and procures the services of your firm to assist with the recruitment of a pool of qualified candidates for the post of Provost. We welcome the opportunity to work with you on this effort.

I write now to describe our expectations of how this search will proceed and, in particular, to indicate those instances in which your firm and its representatives may speak on behalf of the University in conversations you have with prospective and declared candidates for the Provost post.

The Position Profile developed by you sets forth the requirements, functions, and qualifications for the Provost. In no way and in no medium, may your firm exceed the parameters of that positon without prior discussion with and approval by the President of the University.

Upon placement of those advertisements approved by the President, your firm and, more specifically, Ms. Tajah Anakatty, shall act as the sole point of contact for any persons seeking information about or expressing interest in the Provost position and/or expressing the desire to be considered for the Provost position. A record of each such contact shall be maintained by your firm for at least five (5) years from the date of public announcement of this search via advertisements.

During this period, I shall serve as your sole point of contact for questions and/or requests for additional information. Similarly, during this period, I will contact only Ms. Anakatty in the event I have questions or desire information. 

We have agreed that any and all information provided by persons declaring candidacy are the property of Stanley Livingston. Stanley Livingston shall

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