Search Committee Continues in Pursuit of New College President
Published: Friday, September 14, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 14, 2012 14:09
Smith College is moving forward with its search for a new college president. Carol T. Christ, who has been president of the college since 2002, announced that she will retire in June 2013. The Presidential Search Committee, established in January of this year, has worked over the summer to find the right candidates for the position.
The committee is composed of 13 members who are involved in Smith life in various ways. The chairperson is Louise M. Parent ’72, with vice-chair Elizabeth Mugar Eveillard ’69. Agnes Bundy Scanlan ’79, Lois Perelson-Gross ’83, Sharmila Ghosh Sinha ’88, James Shulman and Lynn Smith Fox ’77 are all trustees of the college, with Fox also serving as the President of the Alumnae Association. The faculty representatives on the committee are Alexandra Keller, professor of film studies and director of the film studies program; Nancy Whittier, professor of sociology; and Andrew Guswa, professor of engineering and director of CEEDS. Rebecca Lindsey, assistant to the president, serves as a staff liaison. Laurie Fenlason, vice president for Public Affairs is also on the committee. Yasmine Evans ’13 is the student representative for the committee.
While the committee is not yet interviewing candidates, the group refined their criteria for candidates over the summer break, with interviews slated to begin in October. The committee is working with the firm of Isaacson, Miller to help recruit potential candidates. Isaacson, Miller specializes in hiring for academic and similar institutions. “It’s useful to get an outside view when it’s so carefully considered,” said Keller. “They have pointed out some strengths Smith has that we either hadn’t thought of or were simply so used to that we had ‘forgotten’ them.”
“We all have strong opinions, but we have worked very well as a collective so far.... having time to get accustomed to some of the differences between this kind of search and, say, a faculty search, has been useful,” said Keller.
Keller described the qualities they are looking for in detail, including fundraising abilities, innovation and history with education and campus life.
“But, there is much more to refining the list,” said Keller in an e-mail. “Does any given candidate really understand the liberal arts, and what makes this kind of education different? Does this candidate really understand women’s education and women’s issues?” In addition to other vital characteristics, the committee looks for candidates who “click” with Smith as an institution. “These things get very carefully and rigorously worked through in interviews, and there’s quite a lot of preparation, a lot of studying for that beforehand,” Keller explained.
With the committee formed in January, the timeline for the search has been a long one. “I’ve found it very useful simply to have time to reflect on the ways each of the other committee members sees the college and its future, and to come to understand in more detail how each person makes decisions,” said Keller.
The committee is currently working with a large pool of applicants – many more, in fact, than they can possibly interview. “The presidential Web site brings us daily to weekly input from all parts of the community,” said Keller, referring to the online suggestion form for candidates. “Over the fall, we will be interviewing down to the list of finalists, after which we will make a decision and be able to announce.”
“We all want someone who ‘gets’ us, and is prepared to lead us with stability and creativity, with clarity and compassion,” Keller continued. “As a professor, I … expect someone to value the complex professional engagement of a liberal arts college educator here at this place. Smith professors have deep commitments to both teaching and research and to the community … I hope the next president ‘gets’ what an intense commitment that is.”
Under President Christ, applications to Smith dramatically increased, the Campus Center and Ford Hall were built, the Brown Fine Arts Center was renovated and expanded, and the college’s endowment topped one billion dollars for the first time.
More information on the search for a new president can be found at www.smith.edu/newpresident. Feedback and suggestions for the committee can also be submitted at the site.