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RISD presidential search draws from international applicant pool

Preliminary interviews underway to narrow down field of more than 100 nominees

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 13, 2015

The international search for the Rhode Island School of Design’s 17th president — which began following the sudden departure of President John Maeda in December 2013 — has reached the preliminary interview process.

More than 100 members of the RISD community have been nominated, some of whom will interview for the position in addition to other contenders,according to a Jan. 20 RISD press release.

“As we have stated from the beginning, we remain unwaveringly committed to the principle that (the search) will take exactly as long as it needs to identify the right next leader of our cherished institution,” Michael Spalter, chair of the search committee, said in the press release. “But we have every confidence that it is moving toward a successful conclusion.”

The search committee comprises RISD faculty members, staff members, alums and representatives, and has enlisted the support of search firm Isaacson, Miller along with eight advisory groups.

The goals of the search committee include recruiting from a “large, diverse pool of candidates” and interviewing “a significant number of candidates to identify a group of three to five final candidates who best match the position profile,” according to the RISD presidential search website. The committee hopes to release progress reports on a regular basis and keep the RISD community informed, according to the site.

But not all students feel they have been kept abreast of the process. “We feel a little bit detached,” said Nic Scholz, a senior at RISD. “We get emails on updates and changes in administration, but not so much specifics.”.

“If there are goals, and you achieve those goals, you can talk about them. The intangibles and the processes are kind of difficult to update the student body community of,” he added.

Some specific details of the search process remain undisclosed, and the names of candidates being interviewed have not been released. The committee pledges to “observe strict confidentiality with respect to candidates and the internal deliberations of the committee,” according to its website.

Following the preliminary interviews, a small group of finalists will be chosen and evaluated with additional interviews before the committee begins to deliberate.

Maeda’s sometimes controversial tenure may hold lessons for RISD’s ongoing presidential search.

“One thing Maeda wasn’t particularly good at was instilling a confidence in the faculty at RISD,” Scholz said. I would really like to have a president that can be trusted by the RISD community.”

Faith Baum, RISD senior critic, wrote in an email to The Herald that she “loved (Maeda’s) stance that artists do not need to be starving, that the business world can benefit by collaboration with the creative thinking that RISD students are capable of,” adding that she also welcomed his hiring of new administrators.

But Baum wrote that Maeda pursued his goals in a manner that was often perceived as offensive, characterizing Interim President Rosanne Somerson as more of “a listener.”

Somerson, a 1976 RISD alum, began serving as interim president Jan. 1, 2014. A well-known furniture designer, she joined the RISD faculty in 1985, founding the school’s furniture design department. Somerson also served as provost prior to Maeda’s exit, according to the school’s website.

Scholz said he appreciates Somerson’s work as the search process continues into its second year. “It’s taking a while, but it goes to show that Rosanne is clearly doing some things right. If she totally botched the job, it would be a quick change,” he said, adding that he is not surprised by the search’s duration. “These things take time. Finding the right person to fill that position is tough.”

Somerson “seems to have been what RISD needed after tumultuous Maeda,” Baum wrote, but there has been no mention as to whether Somerson is being considered for the long-term post.

Scholz said he hopes to see the next president advance some of Maeda’s ideas, such as blending technology with art.

Baum wrote that she would like Maeda’s successor to be a successful fundraiser — “a money magnet that grows our endowment.” RISD is a breeding ground of “fabulous students and brilliant faculty,” she wrote, but “in order to realize our potential we need endowment and funds to develop, or we will go downhill.”


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  1. Inbre Deutsch says:

    Well good. That should balance out the other university president on college hill, who is a hick.

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