The Board of Regents room in Welch Hall was packed with people from across the state, Friday, as the Board of Regents formally elected Dr. James Michael Smith as Eastern Michigan University's 23rd president.
At 1:00 p.m., the room hushed as the Board took to their seats. At 1:09 p.m. the unanimous election took place. Two of the members of the Board who were not in attendance were conferenced in via phone. Smith received a standing ovation from the crowd upon election. He thanked the Board, the search committee and the crowd.
“I know that this is an important appointment for you,” said Smith. “And I will assure you it's a critically important appointment for me and for Connie as we give the next stage of our lives to Eastern Michigan University.”
Connie Ruhl-Smith is his wife.
The meeting lasted a total of 15 minutes. Interim President Donald Loppnow will continue his presidential duties until Smith's first day in office on July 1, 2016.
Prior to the position, Smith was the president of Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, since 2009. He previously ran administrations across the country as the vice president of economic development at Bowling Green State University and held other positions at West Texas A&M University and Butler University in Indianapolis.
“Being that he's been in that position as a president for the last 7 years, he understands,” Regent Mary Treder Lang said. “He's elevated Northern University and he's related directly with the students on a day to day basis.”
He is the lucky one of 81 applicants who applied to the position. The candidates were first reduced to a group of 11, then three, ending with Smith.
The search committee received a fair share of criticisms from Eastern’s staff and faculty members. The search to replace former university president Susan Martin was done in a closed process that did not allow for much oversight from anyone. Treder Lang said that the closed nature of the process was important to ensure a quality candidate.
“Quite honestly, during the final candidates in the interview process, they said to us directly, not a single one, did not say that they would have not applied if it was not closed,” Treder Lang said. “So I don't think we would have had the depth of the qualifications that we had to choose from.”
Smith said the Regents have challenged him since his first interview.
“I was challenged from the moment I walked into the interview room the first time, to the time I came back for the second interview. And that's the way it should be," Smith said at the reception in McKenny. “I guess I met the challenge because I actually got to sign a contract about half an hour ago, so I want to thank the Regents for that opportunity as well.” Throughout the afternoon, Smith repeated that he is looking forward to getting to know the campus, staff, faculty and students.
The 5-year contract Smith signed includes $400,000 in base salary. That is $60,000 more than the $340,000 contract that Martin had when she resigned, according to MLive. Martin's original salary when hired in 2008 was $285,000. Smith's salary will be reviewable by the Board of Regents.
According to clause 4.3 of Smith's contract “the President is eligible for an annual bonus of up to ten percent of his base salary.”
Smith's benefits will include health insurance, life insurance, vacation leave, sick leave, a university-provided cell phone, traveling expense reimbursement and a university provided car lease. The lease is not supposed to cost more than $600 per month, and will be insured to up to $1,000,000. Smith will also receive an expense account, for an unspecified amount.
After the meeting, Smith went across the hall for a press conference with The Eastern Echo, Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, Michigan Radio and the Ann Arbor News. Later that afternoon at the reception held in McKenny Hall Smith said that he plans to get out of his office as much as possible.
"One of the things I've learned in the number of years working in higher education is that managing by wandering around works," Smith said. “I may wander into your space. And if you say ‘My God, what's the president doing on our floor?’ [It will mean] you haven't done anything bad.”