Students and Alumni Vocal, Board Still Silent on Presidential Candidate Search

Halfway through October, there is still no word on the College’s next president. The Board of Trustees will meet Monday, Oct.18 to discuss the presidential search in a closed session by teleconference, a conversation that began at their last executive session on Oct. 3. As the Board deliberates, the campus buzzes with speculation and differing perspectives on the candidates.

Two weeks ago, at the conclusion of the presidential candidates’ campus visits, the Presidential Search Committee delivered their recommendations to the Board of Trustees. The recommendations have not been disclosed.

Some candidates have been receiving more attention on campus than others. In particular, there is a vocal group of alumni and students that oppose the potential selection of Jim Bacchus and have sent petitions to the Board of Trustees.

Most recently, 166 College alumni signed a letter arguing that Bacchus holds a narrow perspective on liberal arts and as a non-academic candidate, “he lacks higher education administrative experience and institutional fundraising experience.”

According to Ben Wyskida ‘99, many alumni were impressed with Baenninger’s experience in higher education and fundraising. He suggested that if polled, the alumni would most likely split between Baenninger and beginning a new search.

The letter also expresses concerns about clients Bacchus has represented through the Global Practice Group of Greenberg Traurig in Washington, DC and his 8 years as a judge on the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization. Among the clients the alumni group finds most questionable are New Balance, Lennar Corporation and Group Menatep. Bacchus’ role in representing these companies is unclear, and in no case is there any indication of wrongdoing on his part. However, signatories feel it is fair to “ask whether or not his work for those institutions is consistent with the values of the College.”

Additionally, the letter asserts that three academic departments have rated Bacchus as unacceptable. However, according to Wyskida, these three departments have not been identified.

Faculty members have denied that this is the case. “I haven’t seen anything that indicates three whole departments don’t approve of a particular candidate,” said Chair of the Political Science Department, Michael J. G. Cain. “The faculty did not agree on all the candidates, but there was a good exchange, and a lot of people learned from the discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates.”

Prior to receiving the alumni letter, the Board of Trustees also received a student petition against Bacchus with 157 signatures. Petitioners offer the same argument addressed in the alumni letter. According to organizer Tess Wier, Bacchus’ potential strength as a fundraiser is not a sufficient quality for the next president. “I think the other candidates, particularly Kate Conway-Turner, have much more of a St. Mary’s feel to them; they are interested in issues of diversity and critical thinking, and they have experiencing approaching these through their work in higher education, which I think is the epitome of what a college president should do,” Wier said.

However, other students disagree with the petition and feel the anti-Bacchus movement is negative for the campus. “Voicing opposition to one or more candidates without promoting another surrounds the search with a lot of negativity and weakens our ability to find the best president for St. Mary’s,” said Vice President of SGA, Lisa Neu.

“It elevates his visibility above other candidates, who if offered the job may feel that the sole reason they were chosen was the fact that they are not Bacchus,” she said. “These candidates are also exploring opportunities at other schools, and from their perspective, why should they want to accept a second-hand offer? Also, if Bacchus is selected, the perceived hostility may affect the College’s ability to negotiate a mutually beneficial contract, and affect his opinion of the school.”

Some faculty members agreed. “The search committee has done a good job vetting candidates. I don’t think it’s the purpose of faculty, alumni or students to find things that would disqualify candidates in the eleventh hour,” said Cain.

Two members of the faculty served on both this Presidential Search and the last search that brought former President Maggie O’Brien to St. Mary’s—Bob Paul and Lorraine Glidden. According to Paul, there was none of the same opposition to any of the candidates in the last presidential search. However, Glidden said, “Campus opinion of candidates wasn’t as transparent last time.”

While campus views are widespread, members of the Search Committee have offered assurance that all constituencies were represented fairly. “I think the recommendation was made with a broad cross sectional view,” said Paul.  “I have to listen to everybody, not just the loudest. There was strong support for some candidates and opposition to others but our charge was to represent the total faculty opinion. I think…we were fair and impartial.”

Before the next President is announced, the Board must decide on a candidate, await the candidate’s acceptance, and come to an agreement on a contract.

“It takes a lot of negotiation, such as salary and term of service. It takes a while, I think in Maggie’s case it may have been as long as two months,” said Paul.

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