The search for a permanent successor to Rebecca Chopp, who resigned this summer, has begun ramping up with a call for community feedback in the selection process by the newly-created Presidential Search Committee. The committee, working in partnership with the executive hiring firm Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, will begin building a pool of potential candidates with the information gained through community responses beginning in October. The selection process is tentatively scheduled to conclude in spring 2015, with the new president assuming office by July 1, 2015.
Chopp surprised the college community in July of this year with an open letter in which she revealed that she would step down as president to take the position of chancellor at the University of Denver, leaving former provost Constance Hungerford as interim president. Chopp, who is educated in theology and has spent more than 20 years in higher education, began serving the college as both president and professor of religion beginning in July 2009. During her tenure she was known for backing the college’s decision to continue a need-blind admissions and demonstrated-need-met financial aid program during the years of the financial recession. Chopp also presided over Eugene Lang’s $50-million donation, the single largest donation in the college’s history, with which the college will expand its math and engineering facilities in the coming years.
More recently, events like the controversy over Title IX violations and events of spring 2013 have placed the college in a less-than-friendly media spotlight during Chopp’s term, the repercussions of which are still being felt in form of continuing administrative and policy changes. President Chopp stated that her decision to leave the college during this period of flux was prompted primarily by personal reasons.
“At the heart of this decision is that my husband, Fred, and I long to return to our beloved city of Denver, where our closest family members live,” Chopp wrote in the letter. “It feels important and right to be with them now, particularly since Fred has been experiencing a number of challenging health issues in this last year or so.”
In response, the college Board of Managers recruited the help of Storbeck/Pimentel and assembled a team of alumni, faculty, and current students in the Presidential Search Committee. Together, these two entities have been tasked with evaluating the most important qualities that Swarthmore needs in its president, and with recommending candidates for the office. The Board of Managers reserved the final decision in the candidates’ selection and approval.
Storbeck/Pimentel specializes in the field of leadership searches, especially in higher education. Storbeck/Pimentel has helped find presidents and chancellors for many schools, including Carnegie Mellon, Wellesley, Pomona, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Dartmouth. It also recently helped the college hire JT Duck as Director of Admissions, Kaaren Williamsen as new Title IX coordinator, and Lili Rodriguez as associate dean of diversity, inclusion, and community development.
The Presidential Search Committee consists of 12 students, professors, staff and alumni whose stated goals include plans to develop a profile of the college and of desired attributes in candidates, to raise awareness for the open position and to conduct the search in a transparent manner based on community feedback.
“For Swarthmore to remain a leader in liberal arts education, we must think carefully about our vision for the College’s future and who can lead us in implementing that vision,” wrote Salem Shuchman, chair of the committee in a September 4 update. “Our goal in the early stages of this search is to have as open a process as possible to ensure maximum community participation. The committee strongly encourages your participation through open forums and smaller meetings.”
The Committee held four open sessions from Monday, September 15 through Thursday, September 18 in hopes of gathering different perspectives about what the community believes is important in a new president. With feedback from these open and other smaller meetings, the Committee will begin soliciting nominations and build a candidate pool in October and November.Two rounds of interviews are tentatively scheduled to be held in the late fall and early spring semesters, after which the finalists will visit campus for confidential meetings with members of the Swarthmore body. The committee will then recommend a single candidate to the Board of Managers for approval. The 15th president of Swarthmore College is projected to assume office in July of 2015.
Students that participated in the open meetings articulated qualities that they hoped to see in a new president. Paul Green ’15, founder of Swarthmore Common Sense, a project dedicated to connecting groups interested in the Board of Managers’ spending, believes a president’s priorities should not be weighted so heavily toward fundraising.
“Our new president should have a list of priorities to the school that come before providing for our future financial needs,” wrote Green in an email. “To me, President Chopp’s job was to fundraise, then to lead our community on the side.”
Others believe that the college should focus on diversifying the ranks of Swarthmore presidents.
“Considering the priority Swarthmore claims to place on diversity, diversifying our presidency should be a top priority,” said Hope Brinn ’15. “It’s hard for me to imagine how we can be an equal opportunity employer when we’ve never had a person of color, and only recently a woman, as the president of our institution.”
Although the period of open meetings is over, the committee said it is continuing to seek more community perspectives.