First stage of presidential search ‘wrapping up’

Kylee Sapp

The search for a new president is just wrapping up its preliminary stage, Secretary of the University and Search Committee Member Jim Farrar said.

“We’re kind of right at that turning point between the information gathering stage and populating the [candidate] pool,” Chair of the Committee Craig Owens said.

President Ruscio announced last May that he would be stepping down as the university’s president on June 30, 2016.

“I had no personal timeline in mind, but a decade now seems about right — enough to have achieved many of our goals, and the right moment for the University to start anticipating new ones,” he said in an email to students and faculty.

On July 8, the presidential search committee sent another email, announcing the creation of their committee, which includes seven members of the Board of Trustees and seven members of the faculty.

Farrar said the committee’s first act was to partner with a consulting firm called Storbeck and Pimentel.

“With a search of this magnitude, you really need to hire people who know the field, because consultants are agents that will go out and communicate to people about this vacancy and attract good candidates,” Farrar said.

The committee’s next step was to work with Shelly Storbeck and two of her associates to create what they called a prospectus to tell possible candidates about Washington and Lee.

“When we have that document, then we’ll see lots of applications and nomination,” Owens said.

Twelve forums were held between Aug.11 and Sept. 4 to get input from the community in the process.  At the forums, consultants posed three questions to the W&L community: What are the attractions of W&L?  What are the challenges a potential candidate will face?  With that in mind, what kind of person do we want to see?

“Each constituency has things that they as a group want to see,” Farrar said.  “The goal is to find as many common themes as you can, and find a person who can satisfy many of the common themes that we’ve identified.”

Both Farrar and Owens said that it’s important to remember that no one will have all of the qualities on the list.

“The place I would start is that they want to be sure that whoever is in the president’s chair is someone that really understands W&L,” Owens said.  “Whether it’s an alum or a student or a parent or a faculty member, they feel like we’ve got a pretty special place.”

Among the many other qualities they listed are a dedication to a liberal arts education and an understanding of the challenges and opportunities such an education poses.

Last week, the search committee announced the addition of Executive Committee President Mason Grist.

“As we listened to people we felt like it made a lot of sense to actually have a student on the committee,” Owens said.  “I’m happy to have him on the committee and I think he’s going to be a great addition.”

Members of the W&L community can add to the conversation by taking a short survey available on the search committee’s website.  The committee has received over 1,400 responses to the survey so far.

The committee hopes to have a candidate to recommend to the board by their meeting in February, but Owens said that is subject to change.

“It’s more important to get it right than to get it on time,” he said.