The problem with using firms to find college administrators

To the editor:

I write with regard to the article on the presidential search process, published in the September 25 issue of the Phoenix. As noted there, the presidential search committee has retained the firm of Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, which has been involved in searches for presidents, chancellors and other high-level administrative positions at many colleges and universities. In addition to the presidential search, the Storbeck/Pimentel website lists Swarthmore College for ten additional positions:

  1. Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid

  2. Dean of Students

  3. Vice President for Development

  4. Vice President for Human Resources

  5. Director of Annual and Parent Giving

  6. Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development

  7. Compensation & Benefits Director

  8. Vice President for Finance and Administration

  9. Title IX Coordinator

  10. Director of Admissions

According to an August 13, 2013 article by Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Susan Snyder about college and university use of such firms, “On average, the firms charge a third of the new candidate’s starting salary.” A 2011 survey of presidential salaries in the Chronicle of Higher Education lists Rebecca Chopp’s base pay as $530,111 and total compensation as $701,755. How much has the college paid to Storbeck/Pimentel for these 11 searches?

In addition to the financial issue, note that the Storbeck/Pimentel client list includes Rebecca Chopp’s former institution, Colgate University, and her current institution, the University of Denver. In 2011, Rebecca Chopp and Dan Weiss — at that time president of Lafayette College, currently president of Haverford College — hosted a conference on “The Future of the Liberal Arts College” at Lafayette College. One of the speakers was Shelley Weiss Storbeck. Lafayette College and Haverford College are also clients of Storbeck/Pimentel. The speakers list for the conference includes the presidents of Smith, Wheaton, Williams, Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Sewanee, Pomona, Franklin & Marshall and Colorado College, all included on the long list of clients of Storbeck/Pimentel. What is the real purpose of such conferences and symposia? Is it truly to have some positive effect on liberal arts education, or is the real purpose to provide an opportunity for college presidents and other high level administrators to make connections useful in securing their next position?

Should we not question the motives and interests of these head-hunter firms and the administrators they aim to place? Do we want to participate in this game of musical chairs for selecting college administrators, conducted by head-hunting firms that are the chief beneficiaries of the increasingly rapid turnover of college presidents and other high-level administrators?

Signed, Helene Shapiro

Helene Shapiro is a professor emerita of mathematics at the college.

An earlier version of this letter appeared in the college’s Faculty-Staff Digest.

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