Presidential Search Committee Makes Covert Progress
By Yi Lu ’14, Staff Writer
On Feb. 2, the presidential search committee released a “Defining Document” of the College and its visions for the new presidency, marking the beginning of candidate outreach and evaluation process that will take months.

The 18-page online document, intended for both presidential candidates and members of the College, is a culmination of the Committee’s extensive meetings with different constituencies of the College since last fall. Based on in-person discussions and written comments, the “Definition Document” details the College’s unique strength and challenges — ranging from academics, student life, budgetary information and issues of governance — and consolidates a leadership profile with specific attributes and abilities that the College seeks in its next President.

“The definition document sets out a framework for the search,” said Jide Zeitlin ’85, Chair of the Search Committee and of the Board of Trustees. “The insights we gleaned from this initial stage in the process continue to inform our thinking.”

As the document attempts to capture the richness of the College, it also highlights the difficulty of balancing different institutional interests and priorities required of the next President. They include: expanding sources of the College’s revenue, addressing the volume of the professorial retirements, streamlining responsibilities among administrative committees and above all, addressing the needs of a student population that is more diverse than ever.

“An Amherst president must have an authentic and visceral affinity — let’s call it love — for this small place and its large ambitions,” concludes the document.

Currently, the search committee has now embarked on “very early stage” conversations with initial candidates, according to Zeitlin. Yet as the search process continues, there is also a subtle balancing act on the part of the Committee: while ensuring transparency and openness to the search process, the Committee must take care to guard the identities of the candidates in case of potential career repercussions if their applications are unsuccessful.

“The last thing we want to do is miss the opportunity to hire the best candidate because he or she is unwilling to place his or her name in the pool for fear of inadvertent disclosure,” said Professor Martha Umphrey, a faculty member on the committee.

Umphrey explained that such a strict pledge of anonymity helps guarantee the candidate’s trust and confidence in the search process.

In addition to the issue of confidentiality, however, there are lingering questions about the search that remain unaddressed by the February update, including the progress and agendas of the Committee. It is also unclear whether students, faculty and staff will be able to meet the finalists later in the search, as they usually do during selections of new professors. At the time of this article, however, no further details could be confirmed.

“I and my colleagues on the committee cannot now share additional information about the search,” Zeitlin said, despite reporters’ attempts to glean more information.

Furthermore, until the Committee’s final nomination, it seems that the rest of the College community may have very limited participation in the search process.

“Once the search starts, there isn’t any opportunity for others than the search committee, and eventually the whole Board of Trustees, to be involved,” said Professor Stephen George, another faculty member on the committee. “I definitely can’t suggest ways for students other than those on the search committee to be involved.”

Currently, Isaac Cameron and Samia Hesni, both seniors, represent the student body on the committee.

Yet despite the lack of information disclosed, the Committee promises to provide timely updates to the College community throughout the rest of its selection process. To elucidate its decision-making process, along with the definition document the committee also published an entry by Kevin Conway ’85, the first of the “Dispatch from the Front” series that will be continued by other members on the Committee.

“Our hope is that these reflections will provide significant transparency about our efforts and progress and also give the Amherst community a better sense of our collective thinking and individual perspectives,” Conway wrote in the first dispatch, posted on Feb.

In addition to posting behind-the-scene insights, the Committee plans to host an online town hall meeting, tentatively scheduled for March, to address non-candidate specific questions from the College community. However, the specific contents and formats, according to Zeitlin, have yet to be finalized.

However, there are positive signs are positive that the Committee remains responsive to student perspectives, even after the public “listening” phase has now ended.

“You should rest assured that you are well-represented,” said Umphrey. “The students on the search committee are playing an important role in our conversations and that will surely continue.”

Note: The Student attempted to contact the Board of Trustees several times and was given only a non-statement reiterating the information available on the committee’s website.

Issue 15, Submitted 2011-02-16 02:03:07