According to Swarthmore College’s independent campus newspaper, The Phoenix, former Colgate President Rebecca Chopp “never thought she’d be where she is now.” Although Chopp meant this on a more personal level, the constant fluidity of University Administrators among the country’s premier institutions keeps nearly everyone guessing.
When former President Chopp announced her resignation on February 21, 2009, the Presidential Search Committee was formed to find the University’s next leader.
“[At the beginning of the process] we asked the business people, parents, students and the community’s members what characteristics and attributes the next leader of Colgate should possess,” Presidential Search Chair Peg Flanagan ’80 said.
Forums were held earlier in the year both on and off campus. When all the feedback was in, the Committee created a “Leadership Statement” that publicly outlined exactly what Colgate is looking for in its next president. The Executive Search Consultant Firm, Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, was then hired to facilitate the process. Storbeck/Pimentel has worked with American University, Bates College, Bowdoin College, Colby College, UC Berkeley and Colgate in each of their presidential searches (including bringing Rebecca Chopp to Colgate in 2002).
The secrecy around Colgate’s Presidential Search Committee is not unique.
“The committee really isn’t allowed to talk to anybody,” Flanagan said.
This secrecy is the strict etiquette followed by all candidates in the running for the country’s leading academic faculty and administrative positions. Much of the secrecy has to do with the fact that job security in academia would otherwise be in perpetual jeopardy if the constant flow of job offers was made public to institutions.
“I would not be surprised to find out, but I don’t know for certain, that people were ringing Rebecca [Chopp’s] phone off the hook to get her to take a job somewhere else,” Flanagan said.
For this reason it is no surprise that executive search consultants are “always contacting Deans of Universities, Provosts, and sitting Presidents,” Flanagan said.
Universities seem to be just as competitive with each other as corporations in any other industry.
“When you have achieved some level of notoriety for hard work and success, as Rebecca [Chopp] did at Colgate, people are very interested in wooing you away,” Flanagan said.
Once Colgate’s presidential search process had begun, a nomination/application form was posted on the Colgate website in order to establish the original pool of candidates.
“[This pool] included everybody who got nominated including some interesting celebrity and community nominations,” Flanagan said.
Storbeck/Pimentel then canvassed their contacts within academia and publicized (albeit secretly) that a presidential job opening had sprung up at a leading liberal arts institution. Through these avenues, the original pool of between 300 to 400 names was established.
“Everybody in that original pool was contacted with the goal of coming down to a small group,” Flanagan said.
Ultimately, the Presidential Search Committee will present their candidate to the Colgate Board of Trustees for approval. When asked for dates, Flanagan could only say the committee is “on schedule with where the search consultant said we would be at this point.”
Since President Lyle Roelofs will be serving as Interim President until June 2010, “there is a cushion of time” for the process to be done to the best of the committee’s ability.
In the coming months of the search, Peg Flanagan and the 17 other members of the Presidential Search Committee will continue to narrow down the applicant pool through “interviews and thorough reference checks.” An in-depth delineation of the qualifications for hire can be found on the Colgate Presidential Search webpage.
“We are keenly interested in having candidates reflect the Colgate they see back to us: ‘When you look at Colgate what do you see as our strengths and our areas for opportunity?'” Flanagan said.
Once the committee chooses its candidate, campus is sure to warmly welcome a new member to the Colgate community. At the same time, an institution somewhere else may be forming yet another search committee to fill the void left by Colgate’s new hire. After all, just as Chopp didn’t know “she’d be where she is now,” neither do they know who is next to go.