Search for College’s Next President Kicks Off

L to R: Sean Farrell, Barbara Stevens and Jane Gruenebaum of Isaacson Miller, and Molley Mahoney, the committee’s chairperson.
L to R: Sean Farrell, Barbara Stevens and Jane Gruenebaum of Isaacson Miller, and Molley Mahoney, the committee’s chairperson.

During its first meeting last Thursday, the Presidential Search Committee outlined its plans for the search and set up an ambitious schedule for the coming months.

The Committee will be working in conjunction with Isaacson Miller, an executive search firm in order to find a pool of potential candidates and eventually recommend a small group of finalists to the Board of Trustees, who will make the final decision.

Molly Mahoney, the chairperson of the search committee, is in the process of breaking down the 26-member committee into smaller working groups to make the process more efficient.  As a whole, the committee is currently in the process of creating a list of qualities that the St. Mary’s community would like to see in the next president.

At the same time, Isaacson Miller is creating a scoping document, which search committee member Professor Ruth Feingold explained as “a detailed presentation of the school for perspective applicants who indicate interest.” She said that “there is also going to be a shorter one-page ad that will be posted in the Chronicle and other like documents.”

According to Torre Meringolo, the Vice President for Development at the College and the Secretary to the Board of Trustees, the search committee will have another meeting on April 30, and the advertisement will be posted by the summer.

Isaacson Miller will also be looking for nominations and continuing to expand the search throughout the first half of the summer; comparable searches have yielded 300-400 applicants.  They will then create a ranking system, and conduct extensive research on the candidates in order to help the search committee narrow down the selections.

By August the committee should have the pool narrowed down to a small group of semi-finalists, and will conduct off-campus interviews.  In early fall, the committee should have selected a small group of finalists who will come to campus for extensive interviews, and for forums and sessions with any interested members of the college community.

Isaacson Miller already has a draft of the scoping document, but hopes to perfect it after its additional visit on Monday and Tuesday of this week.  During this time, Meringolo says that the firm will be meeting with the college community in order to get “as much interaction with different constituent groups in our St. Mary’s College community as possible; we want those search consultants and the search committee to hear what our students value, what their thoughts are on the qualities of the next president, and where they see this institution going.”

According to the faculty members on the search committee, the faculty has already had a meeting during which they discussed their hopes for a new president. Rich Edgar, who is the Director of Admissions, and one of the two staff members on the search committee explained that all of the staff members will be invited to a scheduled meeting with the search consultants next week, and in addition, he and the other staff member on the committee, Derek Young, the area coordinator for multicultural initiatives, will be holding staff breakfasts over the summer to make sure that staff members are kept abreast of the progress of the search committee, and to give them the chance to share their ideas about qualities that they seek in  the next president.

Sophomore Aaron French, who is one of the two student committee members said that he and fellow search committee member Debbie Travers are in the process of coming up with a plan to get feedback from the students. They are currently thinking about either creating a survey, hosting an all-student forum, or holding individual discussions in all of the student residences.

Committee Member Professor Asif Dowla pointed out that the process has to be collaborative: “People should not believe that the search committee will do all the work, they should give us ideas, give us feedback, tell us what’s working, follow the website, its everybody else’s responsibility.”

All search committee members stressed that they were looking for feedback, and not only from their own constituencies. “Our goal is not only to represent the constituency from which we come, but a more global understanding of St. Mary’s College,” said search committee member Professor Laraine Glidden.

In deciding who got to be on the search committee, Meringolo explained that “the trustees appointed the trustee members, the faculty elected the faculty reps, the students were selected through a process worked out by the Dean of Students, the alumni selected their president, and the SMCM Foundation Board selected its president.  Additionally, one of the trustees, Larry Leak, is also vice chairman of the HSMC Commission and he is representing them.” Meringolo also said that the make-up of the search committee was based on the make-up of the search committee that selected the current president, Maggie O’Brien.

However, since then, all of the groups have increased in size.  The current Committee includes 27 members, there are 15 trustees (including chair and vice-chair), six faculty members, two members of the staff, two students, the alumni council president, and the foundation president.  The committee is large in size; according to Isaacson Miller, comparable search committees have an average of 21 members.

There seems to be a general consensus that all parties feel represented. Travers said, “I definitely feel like our [student] voices are heard…Molly Mahoney has already been really committed to making it possible for Aaron and I to be at the meetings.”

However, the numbers did not go unnoticed by all committee members. French spoke to what he believed to be an imbalance of power; “There are two students and six faculty, and everyone else is a trustee or administrator, which sort of puts the balance of power against students.  However…the committee was very receptive to what I had to say.  So even though there is little student representation it’s being taken into account, which I think is really great.”

Edgar echoed French’s sentiment: “I think we could have had maybe more students,” he said, “I was surprised about the number of board members on it, because they get the last say, but with that being said, there is the excitement of having a board who cared enough to be there so you kind of have to balance that a little bit.”  Edgar’s only regret was that there were no staff members on the committee that elected the search firm.

According to Meringolo, that committee involved only trustees, faculty, and the College’s attorney.  However, Edgar was quick to add that he believes that the group made a great choice.

Across the board, committee members seemed very impressed with Isaacson Miller.  The firm was chosen unanimously from a pool of 16 firms. “They came into the room full of energy about the college, and we got the sense and they already knew the college and loved it the way that we do,” Mahoney said.

Feingold, who was one of the members of the firm selection committee admits that she was initially skeptical about the choice to hire a search firm, “I didn’t know what search companies did and I thought, ‘Oh, god, it’s a way of spending tens of thousands… they place ads, no…They do all the initial work of writing the ads, writing the documents; the committee has the final say for all that but they do all the ground work.”

Feingold also pointed out the academic backgrounds of the principal representatives, “both of them have worked in higher education as professors, as administrators; they come out of the educational world.”

At Thursday’s forum the representatives from Isaacson Miller also gave a profile of their firm, explaining their non-profit nature, and experience working with searches in higher education.  They then opened up the floor to questions about the firm and the process before asking audience members to describe the College as it is right now, and to provide examples of wishes for the future and the qualities that they sought in a future president.
They also emphasized their commitment to the transparency of the process.  At the same time, they informed everyone of their strict confidentiality policy which is in place in order to protect people who are currently employed who would like to apply for the job, and who might lose their job if their name got leaked.  The confidentiality agreement will be enforced until the final candidates come to campus in the fall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *