hobart and william smith colleges

A Message from Search Co-Chairs Andy McMaster ’74, P’09 and Cyndy Gelsthorpe Fish ’82


Dear Members of the Hobart and William Smith Community,

Last week, representatives from Isaacson, Miller, the firm the Colleges engaged to manage the presidential search process, were on campus for the Search Committee launch meeting and facilitated listening sessions. This was a productive beginning to what will be a successful search. We are especially grateful to the faculty, staff and students who were able to participate in the open sessions. Another round of listening sessions is planned for September and we highly encourage your involvement. What Isaacson, Miller learns from these meetings will deeply inform the profile and ultimately the characteristics, traits and experiences we seek in candidates. As always, you are welcome to share your feedback via email with Isaacson, Miller at HWSpresident@imsearch.com.

We are pleased to report that the Colleges remain on track to welcome our next president in June of 2019. There’s a great deal of work that will take place between now and then to ensure our success, much of it completed by the Search Committee which has the responsibility of identifying and interviewing candidates and recommending a finalist to the Board of Trustees. The Board then makes the final decision on the next president.

In our first Search Committee meeting, we discussed the benefits and challenges of operating a confidential search. After careful consideration and with the strong counsel of Isaacson, Miller, which has nearly four decades of experience conducting successful searches for the top colleges and universities in the country, the search will be conducted on a confidential basis. Only through a confidential search can we build a deep and diverse pool of candidates. We firmly believe that it would be an abrogation of our responsibilities to undertake any course of action that would limit the pool or undermine the efficacy of this search. The Board of Trustees agrees with this approach.

At the end of this email, please find frequently asked questions and answers about the search process and the nature of confidential searches. As always, we encourage you to reach out to either one of us with any questions or concerns. In addition, the names of the search committee members are listed below.

We anticipate communicating with the campus community again over the summer as we develop the presidential profile and make plans for the September listening sessions. Thank you again for your partnership.


Cynthia Gelsthorpe Fish ’82 Andrew G. McMaster, Jr. ’74, P’09
Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees


Presidential Search

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is responsible for choosing the next president?

The Board of Trustees holds the ultimate responsibility for hiring the next president. The Board recognizes and values the critical importance of key stakeholder participation in the presidential search process with regard to providing input around institutional needs and the evaluation and vetting of candidates. This critical role is reflected in the composition of the Search Committee, which is charged with presenting the Board with a recommended slate of the best-qualified candidates for their consideration.

What is the role of the Search Committee?

The role of the Search Committee is to conduct a national search to identify and interview the most qualified candidates and recommend a finalist to the Board of Trustees, whose members will make the final decision on electing the president.

Which search firm has been retained and what is the firm’s role?

After vetting several search firms, HWS has retained Isaacson, Miller (IM). With offices in Boston, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, IM has the largest higher education executive search practice in the U.S. and has placed some of the most respected and successful presidents in the country’s leading colleges and universities.

Our IM team is led by the firm’s founder John Isaacson and Kathryn Barry, both partners with the firm. Both have extensive presidential search experience. Their clients include Union College, Hamilton College, Washington University in St. Louis, Dartmouth College, Duke University, and the University of Virginia, among many others.

The role of the search firm is to assist the Presidential Search Committee by helping to guide the Committee in determining its structure and processes; by advising the Committee in connection with the creation of the presidential job description; and by engaging in outreach to attract a large, talented and diverse pool of qualified candidates to be considered by the Committee. The firm also works with the Board and Search Committee to conduct extensive background checks and references on all finalists.

Why are we conducting a confidential search?

After careful consideration and research, the Board concluded that a confidential search would ensure the deepest and most diverse candidate pool for the Search Committee’s consideration.

In an increasingly competitive higher education landscape, universities and colleges need to find presidential candidates with significant leadership experience in complex and consequential organizations. Virtually all the candidates we will consider for the presidency of Hobart and William Smith will occupy senior roles. They are successful people and highly respected as visible leaders in their home organizations. In a public search process, public vetting with multiple finalists usually dissuades the most experienced candidates from engaging in the search. A candidate’s standing in their current organization – with employees, faculty, board members, donors or others – can be significantly damaged if they are ultimately unsuccessful in a public competition. In the age of the internet and social media, even small activist protests can use harsh language to describe candidates they dislike, sometimes for reasons only tangentially connected to the candidate or reasons that are false. Women and minority candidates are particularly concerned with unfair and hostile attacks that are a form of disguised bias. The fear of public exposure does and should deter candidates. What is on the internet never dies. Candidates find themselves humiliated at home and search committees in other searches avoid them. Even the appearance of controversy can easily deter a search committee in a subsequent search. A bad experience can cost heavily, derailing a promising career. As a result, confidential searches are now the standard for virtually all selective private universities and colleges and increasingly, many public universities. The Board of Trustees believes that it is in the best interest of both the institution and the candidates to follow this standard and maintain a confidential search throughout the entire search process.

How do I share my thoughts about the search or send nominations?

The search firm and the Search Committee welcome your thoughts. The firm is holding open listening sessions with the on-campus community in September. If you wish to share your views or send nominations, you can also email HWSpresident@imsearch.com.

Search Committee for the President of Hobart and William Smith Colleges:

The Board of Trustees:

  • Cynthia Gelsthorpe Fish ’82, Vice Chair, Presidential Search Committee Co-Chair
  • Andrew G. McMaster, Jr. ’74, P’09, Vice Chair, Presidential Search Committee Co-Chair
  • Aileen Diviney Gleason ’85
  • William T. Whitaker, Jr. ’73, L.H.D. ’97
  • Craig R. Stine ’81, P’17

The Colleges’ Administration:

  • Cathy Williams, Vice President for Communications and Marketing
  • Deb Steward, William Smith Director of Athletics
  • Lou Guard ’07, Vice President and General Counsel

Elected Faculty:

  • Assistant Professor of Psychology Sara Branch
  • Assistant Professor of Political Science Justin Rose
  • Professor of Physics Donald Spector
  • Professor of Dance Cynthia Williams

Student Representatives:

  • Edens Fleurizard ’20, Hobart Junior Student Trustee
  • Caitlin E. Lasher ’19, William Smith Senior Student Trustee