By Carolyn Fleder
The search for Kenyons 19th president continued on Friday, Sept. 28, with a community forum held in Rosse Hall. Eleven members of the Presidential Search Committee composed of trustees, alumni, faculty, administrators, students and representatives of the firm Storbeck/Pimental & Associates were present at the sparsely-attended forum, which Chair of the Committee Brackett Denniston 69 and Vice-Chair Aileen Hefferren 88 H12 led.
One characteristic that unites this diverse committee is a love of Kenyon. We are all volunteers. We had to be persuaded, but it wasnt hard to persuade, Denniston said in his introduction to the forum. We have a great dedication to ensuring that the entire Kenyon community gets a spectacular new leader to lead us for the next 10 years or longer. Denniston said that his ideal candidate is somebody who is extremely sensitive to the culture [of Kenyon].
The forum was one of the first steps the Search Committee outlined in its search for the Colleges 19th president. We are at the stage in this process and its very much a process where were beginning the listening, and thats part of today, and in the coming days, of really wanting to hear from the community, Hefferren said. The Committee hasnt yet formed a vision, and thats very much what the public forum is going to be about to get input from faculty, alums, staff, et cetera, and that is critically important because in order for someone to be successful here they have to meet the needs of what the current challenges are and what the future opportunities are.
To aid in the search process, the Committee hired Storbeck/Pimental & Associates, a headhunting firm that has helped select presidents for many liberal arts schools, including Haverford, Smith and Middlebury Colleges. In those instances, the quality of the pools that [the firm assembled], were very talented, very broad, very diverse, with people from lots of different backgrounds, and thats what we would like for Kenyon, Hefferren said. We would like choices, and we think that this magnificent place deserves choices and will have choices.
Shelly Storbeck, a managing partner of Storbeck/Pimental, attended the forum to explain her role in the search process. She asked the audience three questions: what would attract a candidate to Kenyon, what challenges somebody might face in this role and what kind of candidate Kenyon is looking for.
Students, faculty and administrators then stepped forward to give their answers.
Brittney Miles 13 expressed a desire for growth and improvement at Kenyon and an eagerness for a president who will be prepared to hear from the community.
I think as a community, Kenyon is always striving to grow and be a better version of itself, Miles said. Whoever the new president is must be someone who is prepared to hear from the community and hear them speak up and have a voice in the changes that take place in the community and establish a strong relationship within the community, especially when it comes to who Kenyon will be in the next five years, 10 years, so on.
Professor of Sociology George McCarthy, addressing the recent possibility of outsourcing jobs to Sodexo, said he was concerned that President S. Georgia Nugent was not open to dialogue about such issues. McCarthy said he wants a president who will be willing to communicate more openly with the faculty, students and administration.
Likewise, Paul Gebhardt, associate professor of German, said he hopes the new president will be able to balance both the education and business aspects of maintaining a college. This faculty does not view education as a business, but the next president has to juggle that paradox that there are certain business decisions to be made, Gebhardt said. The greatness of Kenyon, and the opportunity Kenyon has to attract some of the best students in this country and the world, is that we dont view education as a business; you dont buy an education here.
Will Ahrens 15, who is the Collegians co-design editor, said he wanted a president who could be seen walking down Middle Path. Ahrens recalled hearing his father, a Kenyon alumnus, talk about President Philip Jordan Jr., or smiling Phil, walking down Middle Path and saying hello to everyone he passed.
The Committee plans to create a prospectus of the College for candidates using the comments and concerns expressed at the forum. The intention of the prospectus is to offer candidates a better understanding of the strengths and challenges they would encounter at Kenyon. The Committee hopes to have the information compiled by this winter but has not set a hard deadline.
We are trying to be disciplined about reaching an endpoint here, but at the same time, allowing ourselves sufficient time to generate a broad and deep and diverse pool, Denniston said.
Hefferren said, were not going to rush. Were going to find the right person.
Denniston emphasized the importance of the Committee taking its time. We [on the Committee] all love Kenyon, and we all have enormous respect and passion for Kenyon and its good qualities, he said. We are going to work very hard to find the best person we can to lead Kenyon for a decade or more, a person whos sensitive to all that Kenyon means, but thats also going to lead Kenyon in a new age, which already has different challenges.
There will be several additional opportunities for the community to participate in the search process. The Committee wants to be as communicative as possible, according to Hefferren. There are limits to this dialogue, however.
We want to share as much as possible without compromising the search, Hefferren said, referencing a need for confidentiality about specific candidates.
The challenge is to continue to improve Kenyon, Hefferren said. I want to be proud of this place.
Denniston amended, Prouder.
Students and community members can stay informed about the search by checking www.kenyon.edu/presidentialsearch for updates.
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