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Carter '12: Faculty, students and the presidential search

A variety of issues surround the University's search for its 19th president, and many of them have already been discussed in these very pages. There are concerns about the search process itself, the selection of members who will comprise the committees so fundamental to this search process and the extent of student participation in the search. Discussion of what qualities a strong candidate should possess has also begun, and it's worth examining what faculty members think with respect to this issue in order to see how much their expectations align with those of students.

A recent Herald article ("Faculty ask for vision, fundraising from new president," Nov. 9) reported on a faculty forum on the presidential search. Troublingly, only 25 faculty members showed up — out of a possible 700. Of course, students are in no position to criticize: Only 15 participated in a recent forum. If participation in forums were any indication of a possible alignment between student and faculty views on the University's next president, then it seems like we are equally disinterested in the outcome.

But let's put issues of participation aside. As the Herald recently reported, two ideas were given great consideration in the faculty forum: vision and fundraising. How useful these ideas really are and the extent to which student and faculty agree on their importance are two  key questions we face as we begin the search process.  

It's hardly fair for faculty to expect a prospective candidate to have a clearly-articulated vision, let alone one they find satisfactory. This is especially true for external candidates who might not even have the knowledge and experience necessary to formulate a vision suitable for the University. But even if a candidate were to have a vision, how important would it be? It seems fair to say that a president should shape such a vision through continual interaction with the University community, reworking it as new issues arise. I don't mean to suggest that a candidate should have no ideas. But it would be both unreasonable and unproductive to come to the post with a perfectly crystallized vision.

Chancellor Thomas Tisch '76 said that "great fundraising starts with great vision," so perhaps that's a reason to consider a candidate's vision. And intuitively it seems right: You want to make people who donate feel like they're playing a role in the future of the University. But does a president need to have his or her own vision in order to bring in money? There's nothing that prevents a president from selling to donors a vision that reflects the views of the entire University community. I have no real fundraising experience, but I think it would be easier to get money out of people when they know that the faculty and students themselves have had a say in determining the vision and direction of the University.

I'm not sure these faculty expectations of a presidential candidate with vision are held by students. Students seem to want a future president who will be a collaborator when it comes to developing a vision — someone who will bring some ideas to the table but who also wants a dialogue.

The headline of the Herald article suggests that faculty also value fundraising ability in a candidate. But, importantly, no faculty member is quoted when it comes to the importance of fundraising. Tisch and Corporation member Marty Granoff P'93 are quoted, and Tisch quoted a former Brown professor on how fundraising is like "selling participation in a dream," but the faculty members quoted spoke about the importance of teaching, risk-taking and greater interdisciplinary collaboration. Granoff even went so far as to make the unsubstantiated claim that fundraising is integral to attracting strong faculty members.

Even if faculty members do emphasize the importance of fundraising ability in a candidate, students don't appear to feel the same way. Among the Ruth acolytes I know, none has consistently gushed about her fundraising abilities. I'm not sure any of them have even mentioned it in the hagiographies they consistently deliver to unsuspecting bystanders like me. The ability to bring in money for the University will never negatively affect a student's perception of  a president, but it is far from the most important factor.

So it's pretty clear that students and faculty have divergent views on what constitutes a good candidate. To expect anything else would be naive. It's obvious that all involved parties will agree that fundraising and vision have some importance, but for the views to diverge this much on important issues means that the search will be a difficult one — especially if more faculty members and students contribute to the process.   

Sam Carter '12 is a philosophy and Hispanic studies concentrator. He can be reached at



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