Search committee convenes to find new president

At the beginning of this academic year, Chair of the Board of Trustees Michael Eisenson ’77 announced the formation of the search committee for the 18th president of the College. The committee, which Eisenson also chairs, includes representation from the trustees, faculty, staff, students and alumni. Eisenson also announced that the College has retained the search firm Spencer Stuart to assist.

The search process, according to Eisenson, began after the announcement over the summer of President Adam Falk’s departure. The first step of the process was to establish the framework for the committee, selecting its members and retaining a search firm. The committee members include six trustees: Eisenson, O. Andreas Halvorsen ’86, Clarence Otis, Jr., ’77, Kate Queeney ’92, Liz Robinson ’90 and Martha Williamson ’77. They are joined by five members of the faculty, Ngonidzashe Munemo, associate dean for institutional diversity and associate professor of political science, Professor of English Peter Murphy, Professor of Economics Lucie Schmidt, Professor of Chemistry Tom Smith ’88 and Professor of Psychology Safa Zaki, and one staff member, Associate Provost Chris Winters ’95. The alumni members of the committee are Jordan Hampton ’87, president of the Society of Alumni, and Yvonne Hao ’95, trustee emerita. The two student representatives on the committee are Ben Gips ’19 and Sarah Hollinger ’19.

In selecting the committee, Eisenson noted that he aimed to assemble a group that would work well for the benefit of the College as a whole. “I had as a set of objectives making sure that we had people that brought to the process the perspective of students, of staff, of faculty, of alumni, but at the same time would understand that their principal responsibility was not to represent that perspective but to add that perspective, that their principal responsibility was to represent the school,” Eisenson said. “It’s a large committee, necessarily – academic search committees just tend to be larger than search committees elsewhere in the world – it will work best if everyone on the committee feels that their mission is to figure out what’s best for Williams, not what’s best for some subset of Williams.”

The student members in particular were selected for their ability to serve in the challenging and critical role that the committee members will have to fill. “We were looking for students who had a broad range of experiences on campus, were believed to be well-respected by their peers, whose experiences weren’t strictly overlapping and who would, in the judgment of people who were in a position to speak about them, work well in this type of consensus environment,” Eisenson said.

The committee is now beginning to gather public input for what members of the community would like to see in the College’s next president. “This [community input] is important in fashioning the details of the job description for the new president – 90 percent of the job description stays the same each time but it’s the 10 percent that’s different, that we need to spend a lot of time thinking about,” Eisenson said. According to Eisenson, this input will take three forms: a community survey, forums on campus and targeted outreach to specific subsets of the College community. In doing so, the committee will hope to clarify and specify what it is looking for in the next president.

“There are some fundamental givens, which may sound like apple pie, but they actually are very important in the Williams context,” Eisenson said. “A successful president of Williams will need to be somebody who really loves students, loves faculty, who either loves Williams or who we believe will come to love Williams. This is a very intimate place and the role of the president inside this community is really important.”

While the committee will continue to gather community input throughout the process, that part of the search will be most intense in the late fall and early winter. The need for confidentiality, according to Eisenson, will be crucial throughout the search, in order to attract the best candidates to participate in the process. “The level of confidentiality may be a little frustrating to people,” Eisenson said. “My hope is that we’ll be fully transparent about the process, but that the community will understand we can’t be transparent about the people.”

The search will then move on to vetting and selecting candidates to present to the board of trustees.

“In an ideal world, and the world isn’t always ideal, the search committee will present to the board a small number of well-vetted and highly qualified candidates sometime in the April timeframe and the board will select a candidate around that time,” Eisenson said. “If everything works, there will be a new president in post at the start of the first semester next year.”

Additional reporting by William Newton, news editor.