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.