Colgate Searches for a New President

Even though the academic year is coming to an end, an important event at Colgate is just picking up steam, namely, the search for a new president. On Monday, March 9, students were introduced to the process that is underway for selecting the President of the University and Professor of Philosophy and Religion Rebecca Chopp’s successor. The Student Government Association (SGA), along with Peg Flanagan ’80 and Christian Clifford ’67 of the Board of Trustees, organized a question and answer session for students as one of the first steps toward involving the Colgate community in finding a new president.

“[We wanted the session to be an] informal dialogue to tell us exactly what’s on your mind in terms of what qualities students would like to see in a new president and what issues they think Colgate is facing,” Clifford said.

Before opening up the floor to questions, Flanagan and Clifford took the opportunity to lay out all aspects of the search process that will eventually lead to the selection of Colgate’s 16th President. Flanagan explained that the Board of Trustees was forming a search committee that would act as an advisor to the Board in making candidate recommendations.

“The most important thing the Board does is hire the President and we want to get it right,” Flanagan said. “It is really important for us to hear from you the students, as well as the faculty, so we can do the best selection job possible.”

The committee will be made up of five or six faculty members, two students and 10 trustees, with Flanagan as its chair. According to Flanagan, it has not yet been decided how the student representatives will be chosen. In past years, the SGA president and president of the senior class were the ones to serve, but that will not necessarily be the case this year.

“We’re looking for two students who can bring diversity to the committee in terms of the Colgate experience and perspective,” Flanagan said.

Clifford and Flanagan then explained that the committee had chosen a national search firm that would create a job description or “position statement” that would amplify what is good about the school, as well as candidly reveal what needs to be done in terms of improving it.

After a few more minutes of explanation, the question and answer session began and students jumped at the chance to voice their views. One of the first issues to come up was Greek Life at Colgate and the large student demand to expand, or at least change the system in some way.

“Colgate is a school based largely on tradition and it is important to find a way to move forward in finding a new president who knows the importance of tradition here. Since Greek Life has been a tradition at Colgate, hopefully the new president would work to integrate it more into the school,” one student at the question and answer session said.

Moving away from the idea of tradition, other students expressed their desire to see the new president as an innovator, someone who will be willing to take chances in order to help Colgate change for the better.

“We’re always following the example of other schools, but why can’t Colgate be the innovator and lead the way? I would like to see someone who has a vision and direction. Someone who is accessible to students, but has the power and authority to make the decisions that can take Colgate in the best direction,” said a participant.

The moderator of the discussion, President of SGA senior Dave Kusnetz, caused many heads in the room to nod in agreement with his opinions.

“Any candidate for president here will see that there are a lot of students who love this campus and who come for the experience, not just the degree. What he or she also needs to know is that there are a number of students who are uncomfortable here. It is important for the new president to see past the majority and listen to a diverse range of voices in order to ensure that all students really want to be at this school,” Kusnetz said.

Many therefore felt that the student body and the new president need to be engaged with each other and with every level of administration in between.

At the end of the question and answer session, Clifford thanked the participants and encouraged them to keep providing any ideas or opinions about the process with which they were working.

“We can’t overemphasize how important student input is valued by the Board of Trustees,” Clifford said. “At its core, the Board is totally committed to an evolving Colgate experience that serves our students in the best possible way.”

The next step in incorporating students into the search process took place last Saturday, March 28, when a group of student leaders met with a representative from the search firm chosen to help Colgate find potential presidential candidates. The students, who were selected by a number of administrators, were able to speak with Shelly Storbeck of Storbeck Pimentel about what they would like to see the next president do for the school. Several of the issues that were brought up at the open question and answer session were voiced again with Ms. Storbeck.

“The consensus among the students who attended was that the new president should work to strengthen Greek Life on campus by expanding it as necessary, while providing more attractive social options for non-Greeks on the weekends,” Kusnetz, one of the student representatives at the meeting, said. “He or she also needs to take a firm stance on healing racial tensions on campus and act quickly and decisively on the Diversity Initiative Proposal and support the work of the Dean of Diversity. Additionally, the new president will need to act early on to build trust among those students deeply affected by the heinous events that transpired this past academic year.”

It was agreed upon that the best way for the new president to accomplish these things is to have as much face time with students as possible. According to these discussions, from attending athletic events to participating in philanthropic activities, the new president will be able to gain the trust of students and strengthen the ties of the Colgate community.