Presidential search committee announced

Raymond F. Henze III ’74, Chair of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, has announced the formation of a search committee to review applications for Williams College’s sixteenth president.

The committee will be chaired by Henze and will include six other trustees, five faculty and staff members, four students, two alumni and a secretary.

The formation of the search committee follows the January 18 announcement by President Harry C. Payne that he will step down in June, 2000.

“This transition provides the Williams community an important opportunity to think broadly and creatively about the future direction of the College and the kind of leadership it needs to meet its next challenges and seize its next opportunities,” Henze said in an open letter to the community.

The letter also states that the responsibility of the committee will be to present to the Board of Trustees a small group of nominees for their consideration.

The student representatives on the committee will be Nathaniel Bessey ’00, Medha Kirtane ’00, Robert Wiygul ’00 and Andrew Woolf ’02. According to Henze’s letter, “The student members were selected with the help of a committee consisting of College Council officers and Dean Peter Murphy.”

Also serving on the committee are trustees Michael B. Keating ’62, partner, Foley, Hoag & Eliot; Paul Neely ’68, publisher, The Chattanooga Times; Joseph L. Rice III ’54, president, Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, Inc.; Lucienne S. Sanchez ’79, neonatologist, Massachusetts General Hospital; Cecily E. Stone ’73, homemaker; and Carl W. Vogt ’58, senior partner, Fulbright & Jaworski.

The five faculty and staff members are Jean-Bernard Bucky, William Dwight Whitney Professor of Theatre and chair of theatre; Thomas A. Kohut, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Professor of History; William J Lenhart, professor and chair of computer science; Jana L. Sawicki, professor of philosophy and chair of women’s studies; and Charles R. Toomajian Jr., associate dean for student services and registrar.

The remaining spots on the committee are to be filled by Robert L. Bahr ’67, vice president of the Society of Alumni and Mary T. McTernan ’76, president of the Society of Alumni. The secretary for the committee will be Hodge J. Markgraf, professor emeritus of chemistry.

All of the students involved are excited to be a part of the committee. “This may seem like a trite sentiment, but I am really appreciative of all that Williams has done for me,” said Wiygul. He continued, “The activities of the search committee-gathering input from the student body and larger college community, interviewing and evaluating candidates, and presenting conclusions to the Board of Trustees-just strikes me as extremely exciting. To be involved in that process as an undergraduate is an extraordinary opportunity.”

Bessey echoed his statements saying, “I thought it was a tremendous opportunity to be part of a decision which could have very far reaching implications for the direction of Williams College.”

The student committee members are all also approaching the committee with an open mind. According to Woolf, “It’s not my vision that’s important but rather my interpretation of the community’s needs and vision. In order to identify this vision, I’m going to dedicate a lot of time to working with the College’s various constituencies, particularly the student body. By filtering the candidates through this knowledge, we can identify a president tailored to Williams.”

Wiygul also expressed reservations about specifics saying, “At this point, I think it would be premature for me to enumerate specific issues against which I would evaluate presidential candidates. The selection process, as I see it, should not resemble a one- or two-issue driven political election (unless, of course, a candidate is hell-bent on taking the rest of our library and starting Amherst II somewhere in Manhattan). In fact, I think that one of the most important responsibilities of this search committee is to listen to people’s concerns and articulate a vision of where we want Williams to go in the future.”

Wiygul did mention a few specific issues naming class size and social life in the wake of the revised party policy. “There are no simple solutions to these problems, but I think that any promising presidential candidate needs to be aware of and dedicated to working on them,” he said.

As far as the task at hand Bessey remarked, “there’s always the issue of community at a school this size, how to balance diverse issues. I think there is a sort of need and desire for real Williams-feel, which is general to all 2,000 of us. I would hope that in 20 years I could go up to anyone that I graduated with, or even anyone who went to Williams, and have some sort of shared experience which is Williams to me and Williams to anyone else. At the same time it’s essential that Williams be a place where different people can be comfortable.”

Dartmouth College recently went through a similar process finding a replacement for outgoing president James O. Freeman. James Wright replaced Freeman in 1998.

Laurel Stavis, director of public affairs at Dartmouth, explained how the process worked at Dartmouth. The committee was made up of 14 people including one student, one alumni representative, six members of the faculty and six trustees. As is the case at Williams, a trustee headed the committee.

According to Tom Krattenmaker, director of the Office of News & Information at Swarthmore College, Swarthmore also operates with a system similar to Williams’s.

“Last time around, [which was 1991 with the hiring of President Alfred H. Bloom] the search committee was chaired by a member of our board of managers, and, as that implies, it was a board-governed search, he said.

“The committee included other board members, faculty, staff and (we believe) two students. Ultimately, it was the board that selected and hired the president.”