Presidential search committee releases position prospectus

In its latest step toward selecting the College’s 17th president, the Presidential Search Committee released a prospectus over spring break. The 12-page document outlines core Williams values, programs and policies and describes the qualities and qualifications the Committee will seek in potential candidates.

According to Committee Chair Greg Avis ’80, the process is moving forward according to plans. “Having completed the community outreach process and the presidential position prospectus, we are focused on assembling, refining and editing our prospect lists, gathering data and meeting certain candidates,” he said in an e-mail.

Avis said that the Committee has already begun to identify a list of candidates for the position, and that it is currently working “with the intention to narrow the field to a group of serious candidates who will be interviewed at a later date.”

However, the chairman stressed that confidentiality will be maintained throughout the process, and that no names will be made public until the final candidate has been chosen. “In order to attract the best candidates to the process, it is important that we maintain confidentiality,” Avis said. “Since a high percentage of the candidates have significant positions at other institutions, it is understandable that they would not want to potentially compromise their standing at their current institution by having it known that they are involved in another search.” He added the same would be true in the case of an internal candidate.
The prospectus was written by Committee members Sarah Underhill ’80, president of the Alumni Society, trustees Clayton Spencer ’77 and Steve Harty ’73 and Stephen Fix, professor of English, in conjunction with the search’s Boston-based consulting firm Isaacson, Miller. Avis called the Committee members “masterful in completing a document that has received fine reviews.”

“At its origin, Williams was – literally – a college on the frontier,” the prospectus begins. “It is still what Williams aims to be today.” The document outlines several cornerstones of Williams as an educational institution, highlighting the tutorial system, integration of professors and students, competitiveness of admission and the desirability of the community in which the College is situated and upon which it exerts influence.
The concept of leading, but also being a part of the College community surfaces in the discussion of the College’s three senior officer positions: provost, dean of the College and dean of the faculty, which are filled by active members of the faculty. “This highly unusual arrangement helps ensure that educational values, and a tangible sense of what it takes to teach and learn, are at the core of every decision the College makes,” the prospectus reads. Similar language is used in discussing the role that the president fills in the community. “The College community – sees the president not as a distant administrator, but as a collegial partner in a shared effort to create the best possible college,” it reads.

Moving on to a description of what the Committee seeks in potential candidates, the document emphasizes the power to enact change that the next president will have. “Williams seeks a vigorous, creative individual who will both join and lead the College community – someone who will celebrate what has already been accomplished, but more importantly, will challenge the College to imagine new possibilities for its future, and advance Williams to its next frontiers,” it says.

Breaking down its criteria further, the prospectus outlines an expectation that the next president “provide inspiring leadership and sound management to guide the College through challenging economic times” and proceeds to list several duties that President Schapiro’s successor will be expected to fulfill. The list includes both short-term priorities, such as adjusting the College’s spending to protect the endowment, and long-term goals of reassessing admissions and residential life and continuing the College’s commitments to diversity, academic progress, community involvement and sustainability.

Under the subhead of “Qualifications and Experience,” the prospectus provides 11 desirable qualifications concerning both experience and personal character. Experience includes a “demonstrated commitment to diversity” and work in both management and leadership positions “with proven judgment as a mentor to an administrative team.” The description of the desired personal characteristics range from “a broadly gauged intellectual, curious and widely read, with a lively turn of mind” to “a warm person with a vivid sense of humor, most especially when College life tries the patience of presidents.”
According to Avis, the Committee will provide a brief update on the search’s proceedings to the full Board of Trustees at their meeting this weekend.