Ivy presidential searches may affect College
By Stephanie Mc Feeters, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, October 2, 2012
With Yale University President Richard Levin and Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman stepping down at the end of the academic year, three Ivy League schools are currently seeking new college presidents. Dartmouth Presidential Search Committee Chair Bill Helman ’80 said that while the universities’ searches may impact one another, the committee is focused on choosing a candidate that fits the College’s unique needs.
The Presidential Search Committee was formed in May after former College President Jim Yong Kim was appointed to lead the World Bank and Carol Folt, formerly the College’s provost, was appointed interim president for the 2012-2013 school year. Levin announced his intention to step down in August, while Tilghman announced her decision in September.
Brown University also recently completed a presidential search after former President Ruth Simmons announced her decision to step down in September 2011. Christina Paxson, former dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs at Princeton, was announced as Brown’s 19th president in March after a six-month search process. She assumed the university’s top position on July 1, the same day Folt became interim president.
Helman said he consulted administrators at Brown and other peer institutions that recently completed presidential searches to discuss best practices and has communicated with members of search committees at Yale and Princeton.
Approximately 300 American colleges and universities conduct presidential searches each year, according to higher education consulting firm AGB Search Principal Jamie Ferrare. Given the high turnover rate of high-level college administrators, candidates are occasionally considered by several institutions, but it is rare for the same candidate to be considered in the final stages of two universities’ searches, he said.
Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth’s simultaneous presidential searches may increase competition in attracting certain highly visible candidates, AGB Search consultant Jim Davis said. AGB Search is not involved in any of the current Ivy League presidential searches.
Even though they are highly demanding, Ivy League presidencies are among the most highly sought positions in academia, according to National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities Communications Director Tony Pals.
Each institution’s unique attributes plays a major role in its final selection of a president, and each school will attracts its own individual pool of candidates, Ferrare said.
“It becomes a matter of fit,” Ferrare said.
AGB Search consultant Bruce Alton said that while there may be overlap among Dartmouth, Princeton and Yale’s candidate pools, it is unlikely that all three institutions will end up pursuing the same individual. While there may be a number of candidates qualified to lead a particular institution, choosing the right president requires a match between the candidate and the specific school. Just as Dartmouth students may have applied to multiple universities, in the end, they chose to attend the College due to its unique attributes, he said.
The three schools differ in many ways, and candidates interviewed by the Presidential Search Committee have expressed interest in Dartmouth as a distinct institution, Helman said.
“The candidates the committee has spoken with are really excited about what Dartmouth is and what it can be,” Helman said.
Since Princeton and Yale announced that they are seeking new university presidents, there has been increased media attention on the searches, according to Director of Media Relations for the College Justin Anderson.
“Being compared to these other schools further underscores the ways in which we are unique, and I think that will ultimately serve us well,” Anderson said.
In conducting university presidential searches, hiring committees are considering a wider base of candidates than in previous searches, Davis said. Potential candidates for university presidents include university provosts or other top university administrators, education agency officials, leaders of national organizations in the field of higher education and other individuals with management and fundraising experience, he said. Search committees sometimes seek non-traditional candidates such as corporate executives or military leaders whose main careers have been outside the realm of higher education.
Ivy League universities often consider provosts from other schools in the Ivy League to be strong candidates, Davis said. Prior affiliation to a school or any of its constituencies can also give candidates an advantage in the process.
Individuals are attracted to university presidencies for the leadership opportunities that they provide, Alton said.
“People don’t come into education for the money,” he said.
Patricia Lee ’12 said that the new president must be aware of the College’s culture.
“He’s managing the people who are managing us, so having an understanding of the College and a sensitivity to student culture is really important in setting the tone,” she said.=
Kim’s departure after three years as College president is atypical when compared to other university presidents, according to Davis. Although average university presidential tenures have shortened over the past few decades due to increased demands on presidents, the average tenure is five to seven years, and institutions typically seek presidents who will serve seven to 10 years, he said. Upon stepping down at the end of this academic year, Levin will have served as Yale’s president for 20 years and Tilghman will have led Princeton for 12 years.
In 2000, Princeton, Brown and Harvard University conducted concurrent presidential searches.
Student Body President Suril Kantaria ’13 and John Isaacson, president of Isaacson, Miller, the consulting firm employed by the College to aid in the search process, declined to comment for this article.