While faculty members and the student body bade a fond farewell to President Emerita Catharine Bond Hill at Fall Convocation, the search for the new President of Vassar College has been progressing at a considerable pace. Members of the Presidential Search Committee worked throughout the summer and the return of student and faculty members of the committee to campus for fall semester will likely allow them to get ahead on the process. Several steps have been taken since the beginning of summer, including the completion of an official website dedicated to narrowing the candidate pool.
The Committee, appointed by the Board of Trustees and led by Committee Co-Chairs Geraldine Laybourne ’69 and Anthony Friscia ’78, consists of trustees, faculty members, alumnae/i and students. Along with this 14-person committee, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Art Rodriguez serves as a non-voting observer, AAVC President Missie Taylor ’68 as Advisor to the Co-Chairs and Professor of Mathematics and Statistics John Feroe as Secretary.
According to an email sent out to the Vassar community by the Committee Co-Chairs, the input received from multiple student, faculty, staff and alumnae/i groups over the previous school year and this summer were taken into consideration when drafting the detailed specification for the position. The qualifications can be found on the search’s official website; they encompass several of the College’s aspirations for whoever fills the position, as well as the desired capabilities of a selected candidate.
The site features a quote by the venerated Matthew Vassar, which states, “If we only follow on in the old beaten paths we will make no progress. We do no more than others have done before us. We are only copyists and not progressionists. My motto is progress.” The statement conveys a forward-thinking sentiment that the committee hopes its candidates will embody.
The site defines the position of the president as follows: “The President is the chief executive officer of the College and chair of the faculty, serves as an ex officio member of the Board of Trustees and all its committees (other than the Audit and the Personnel and Compensation Committees), and has final authority over the internal affairs of the College. The President is elected by, reports directly to, and serves at the pleasure of a self-perpetuating, 35-member Board of Trustees.”
This section also highlights the milestones achieved by President Hill during her 10-year-long presidency, including the reinstatement of need-blind admissions, replacement of loans with grants in financial aid for low-income families and the enrollment of a “higher quality and more racially and socioeconomically diverse student body than ever before.”
Under her leadership, Vassar admitted 41 veterans through a program with the Posse Foundation since 2013 and the financial aid budget has more than doubled to over $60 million, with 60 percent of current students receiving some scholarship aid.
The candidate will face both challenges and opportunities, taking on this position at an important time of change for both Vassar College and the liberal arts community at large.
The expectations of the Board of Trustees from the selected candidate cover a wide spectrum of administrative responsibilities and developmental changes around campus.
These include the effort to support a diverse and vibrant community and promote the importance of the liberal arts education and an aspirational vision for Vassar College. Their role also includes reimagining the heart of campus by making significant capital improvements.
Additionally, the next President will be expected to oversee the continuing renovation and repurposing of aging buildings of the College, as well as creating a home for multidisciplinary programs and developing technological infrastructure.
On the fundraising front, “The next President will be expected to lead the College community to identify or confirm priorities, and then plan and lead a capital campaign or campaigns to secure funding for Vassar’s most pressing needs over the next decade and beyond. One of the challenges for the new President will be to increase annual giving to the Vassar Fund.”
In addressing concerns of students that the President does not engage enough with the Vassar community as a whole, the expectations for the next President include communicating and engaging with all constituents of the community, both on and off campus. This implies that they must have the sensitivity to handle problematic discourses and bolster a safe environment while building a talented leadership team which also possess the ability to do so.
Under Qualities and Characteristics, this specification states that, “Vassar College seeks a visionary leader who possesses the intellectual creativity, energy, moral conviction, communication skills, and cultural competence to guide Vassar through the next stages in its evolution”.
This includes unquestioned integrity, belief in diversity and the ability to comfort people of diverse backgrounds, as well as strategic leadership skills. Only someone who understands and believes in the mission statement of the College and has the ability to work well with the governing board of the College can serve as a serious candidate for Vassar.
Drawing on this specification for the position, Isaacson, Miller, the Boston-based search firm hired to consult in the search for the next President, describes the candidate required as someone who “possesses a demonstrated ability to develop and execute a strategic vision, a record of effective leadership and administrative management in a complex environment, the financial acumen necessary to make difficult and necessary financial decisions, and the skills and personality to fundraise successfully. The next President will have a strong appreciation for the academic world and a commitment to the power of shared governance and academic freedom.” Their webpage dedicated to the Presidential search includes a link to the official website and allows anyone to apply for, or nominate someone else for, the position.
According to its Co-Chairs, “The committee has been working together very well in concert with our search consultant, Isaacson, Miller.” They also continue to welcome nominations from the entire Vassar community through the Isaacson, Miller website and are pleased to report that the search is right on track, having moved forward as planned through the summer. While assuring the Vassar community “there is strong interest among outstanding individuals to lead the College,” they invite comments and input from all members.
Appointed to the Presidential Search Committee, Ellie Winter ’18 echoes the thoughts of the Co-Chairs: “The process has been moving along beautifully, and I’m really happy with where we’re headed.”
This reflects the representation of all groups of the Vassar community on the committee. Winter said, “Based on the surveys we conducted late last year and people who have approached us to share their desires, it seems that students are most concerned about maintaining Vassar’s need-blind status, increased attention to the needs of students regarding mental health care, sexual assault and racism, and advocating for students of all identities. We’re generally hoping for a president who can communicate well with the members of our community, and be a visible part of campus.”
Despite concerns that the views of the student body and the committee may not be in alignment, after incorporating the students’ responses and suggestions into the goal of the committee, Winter reports that the committee is “quite cohesive.” The voice of members of the Vassar community should be heard during this important process and all students and faculty are encouraged to reach out to the committee to make suggestions and provide input. Comments and feedback can be sent anonymously to www.imsearch.com/5861.