Presidential search committee to give recommendation by year end


The presidential search committee. Photo by Owen Pearlman ’23.

Abe Asher, Editor-in-Chief

Macalester’s presidential search process is moving quickly ahead — with the college’s search committee hoping to submit a candidate or candidates to the Board of Trustees before the end of the calendar year.

The search committee’s co-chairs, Carrie Killoran ’94 and Michael Huber ’90 told The Mac Weekly this week that there are currently between 12 and 24 candidates under consideration for the position.

The committee plans to cut that number of candidates down to single digits before it conducts its first round of interviews this fall and expects to ultimately submit between one and three names to the Board.

This search, which began in earnest last spring, is Macalester’s first on the presidential level in nearly two decades. Brian Rosenberg has served as the college’s president since 2003 — one of the longest-tenured college presidents in the country.

Rosenberg set his departure to coincide with the conclusion of “The Macalester Moment” capital campaign next spring – and while college met its $100 million goal ahead of schedule last April, he will stay on through the campaign’s official end date in May 2020.

Then, for the first time in 17 years, there will be a new person in charge.

The 13-person search committee, which was formed four months ago, is co-chaired by two members of the Board of Trustees and includes four professors and representatives from the office of student affairs, the athletic department and the current student body.

The committee began meeting and holding listening sessions on campus during the spring. By August, the college’s Chicago-based search firm Spencer Stuart had begun identifying potential candidates for the position.

Select members of the search committee held a meet-and-greet on Tuesday afternoon in the Campus Center, fielding questions from faculty and staff members, before meeting to discuss its next steps.

During that meeting, and in feedback from the community over the summer, a few concerns surfaced.

Chief among them is diversity. Macalester has never had a non-white or non-male president — a circumstance that is becoming rarer and rarer among small liberal arts colleges, and one that members of the committee are well aware of.

“One of the clear themes that we heard coming through,” Killoran said of the feedback they have received, “is the critical importance of [having] a leader who is going to be able to help Macalester further its journey to truly being a place that recognizes diversity, equity and inclusion.”

One piece of feedback stands out. Over the summer, a group called Alumni for Expanding Educational Opportunities (EEO) sent a memo to the search committee and the Board of Trustees calling declining student of color enrollment “concerning,” and urging those involved to “recommit to the goals of the EEO Program and to hire as the next President the candidate to translate those goals into the 21st century.”

The EEO program, which ran from 1969 to 1984, was a scholarship program designed to increase the enrollment of domestic students of color at Macalester.

To move towards accomplishing those goals, and to ensure that the search process both includes and treats fairly candidates of color and non-male candidates, the committee has taken several steps.

“The committee itself is quite diverse, certainly,” Huber said. “I haven’t done an ethnography of the committee, but I think I might be the only white male. There was a real intentionality regarding who is on the committee.”

The search committee approached building the candidate pool with this same intentionality. The group directed Spencer Stuart, which has also helped lead presidential searches for Pomona College, Williams College and Brown University, for a unique, diverse set of candidates.

“They have a track record of placing diverse candidates into senior leadership positions, including the presidency,” Killoran said of the search firm. “They bring a network that already has significant relationships with diverse candidates.”

The committee has also engaged Dean of Multicultural Life Marjorie Trueblood and Dean of the Kofi Annan Institute for Global Citizenship Donna Maeda as informal advisors on diversity and inclusion.

Huber said that both Trueblood and Maeda have spoken at length with the co-chairs, as well as the committee at large, about how to design interview questions and construct its processes of evaluation so as not to disadvantage particular candidates.

“We have spent quite a bit of time thinking about how to run a process which is fair and minimizes inherent biases to the extent that we can,” Huber said.

What might the hire of a non-white president do for the college?

Huber said that while “it’s not my place to speculate about what people may think,” he acknowledged that such a hire might well be “galvanizing and energizing.”

Assistant football coach Daymond Dean ’91, who formerly worked at the college in admissions and alumni relations, agreed

“Just being able to see somebody who reflects diversity in a high leadership position means a lot,” Dean said. “[Vice President of Student Affairs] Donna Lee coming here was huge. When I saw her, I just had to smile.

“We went to Kenyon and Oberlin,” he said of a recent college trip with his son. “Two African American presidents there. So I don’t understand, from the top down, why, outside of student affairs, we can’t have more leaders of color. Executive leaders of color.”

The committee seems to grasp that point. But the selection of Stuart Spencer, and the genesis of the search process as a whole, was not without controversy.

“Finding the next leader of Macalester College ought to be an enterprise in which the participation of the faculty and the participation of other constituencies on campus are invited from the outset,” anthropology professor Arjun Guneratne said.

“Instead, we had a process where basically, in the same breath in which Brian announced his retirement, we were also told what the process was that was going to find his replacement,” he continued. “We didn’t have input into that process. We were presented with a fait accompli.”

This initial displeasure around the setup of the search process led quickly to several changes in the spring. Faculty and staff were each granted an extra seat on the search committee, while faculty were given the right to appoint their members of the committee themselves through a nomination process.

Meanwhile, at the end of the spring semester, Guneratne helped lead an effort to re-establish a Macalester chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which Guneratne said has roughly 20 members and will likely add more in the coming months.

He pointed to the search process at Reed College, which hired Audrey Bilger as its sixteenth president in April, as one that he would have liked to have seen Macalester emulate.

“Right at the very outset, faculty were part of the process that went out to look for the new president,” Guneratne said of Reed’s search, “and they began by laying down the parameters of the search and describing what kind of person they wanted before they went looking for the firm to actually conduct the search.”

In Macalester’s case, the Board of Trustees was responsible for vetting a number of search firms and ultimately selecting Spencer Stuart — a firm that the college has not worked with before, but one that several members of the Board have interacted with in other professional capacities.

“In the case of Reed… the search firm that was hired is one that was owned and run by women and people of color,” Guneratne said. “So an outfit like that probably has a different kind of network and is going to throw up different kinds of candidates than other firms might.

“Both firms might still throw up good candidates and good people, but it would be nice to have these conversations and have a discussion about the search process before we actually commit to a particular course of action,” he continued. “But we weren’t given the opportunity to do that.”

Both Huber and Killoran stressed that they want the process to be as accessible as possible for Macalester students, faculty, staff and alumni over the course of the coming months.

The co-chairs left open the possibility that finalists for the position may visit the college, as Rosenberg did before he was hired in 2003, but stressed that any kind of candidate visit would be discreet in deference to candidates’ privacy.

In addition to various community members, the committee has consulted Rosenberg about the challenges that the next Macalester president will face.

“Clearly there are myriad challenges facing higher education that Macalester is not immune to,” Killoran said. “Those are things that a president has to be versed in navigating and thinking about — how do you stay committed to the liberal arts in an industry that is rapidly evolving and changing?”

“We’re looking to hire a leader, not a follower,” Huber said. “We’re looking for people that are thought leaders.”

Guneratne, citing his desire for the next president to focus on sustainability and the climate, sounded a slightly different note.

“I hope we get a president who is in tune with the campus’ values,” he said.

Over the next three months, the committee is hoping to find someone who is both.