University News

Presidential search committee opens dialogue with staff

Senior Staff Writer
Sunday, November 20, 2011

As the search for the University’s 19th president continues, University employees hope for a leader who will “inspire staff to continue to do their best work,” said Karen Davis, vice president for human resources and an ex-officio adviser to the Staff Advisory Council. Nearly 40 staff members attended forums to voice their input to members of the search committee Nov. 9.

At the two forums, staff discussed qualities of President Ruth Simmons’ leadership style they hope the next president will also possess. These included communication skills and the ability to foster a sense of community among faculty, staff, alums and students.

“A new leader could take us to the next level … in figuring out how to work across some of the silos that we still have at Brown — to help bridge even further the staff-student divide and the staff-faculty divide,” Davis said.

Other important issues staff raised at the forums include balancing the growth of research and the University as a whole without cutting resources from other departments, said Eric Friedfeld, co-chair for the outreach and communication subcommittee of the Staff Advisory Council and manager for technical services in the chemistry department.

The new president will face a “tough balancing act,” combining growth without cutting back on staff while also helping the University build “more of a presence in a global economy,” he said.

“I think that Brown also needs to remember that it’s got a lot of infrastructure here on campus currently that we just need to make sure that we keep up and maintain,” he said.

The University’s response to the financial crisis took a toll on staff, Davis said. “We’ve made a lot of progress and continue to make a lot of progress, but are potentially doing that on the backs of staff,” she said.

Penina Posner ’92, senior library specialist, was unable to attend the forums held Nov. 9 but noted the importance of an “open dialogue”  between staff and the new president.

“Every member of the Brown community should have the equal attention of the new president,” Posner said, adding that it should not matter whether a community member is a janitor or a wealthy donor.

She compared her experiences as a undergraduate under former President Vartan Gregorian with her time working on University staff under Simmons. She said she valued Gregorian’s approachability and presence on campus as well as a focus on undergraduate development rather than profit.

“The time is now for a new president to guide Brown and help Brown to be a leader within the Ivy League,” she said.

Both Friedfeld and Davis praised the transparency of the search committee and the search process and felt that staff feedback was appreciated by members of the search committee.

“If you really want to know what’s going on, you have an opportunity to know what’s going on,” Davis said, citing the Presidential SearchCcommittee’s website and the forums that have been held for students, staff and faculty. “I think staff really appreciate that.”

“I’m impressed that Brown even opened up these forums to get input,” Friedfeld said.

Chancellor Thomas Tisch ’76 P’07, who is chairing the Corporation’s Presidential Search Committee, wrote in a statement to The Herald that the forums “have been enormously important in understanding the interests and priorities of faculty, staff, students and alums.”

But Simmons’ strengths present a challenge to the committee, Davis said. “Ruth is going to be a tough act to follow,” she said. “I think staff … really appreciate her leadership and are hoping that the next leader will be able to bring much of that to the table.”

—With additional reporting by Kate DeSimone