Search for New College President Raises Questions
By Cody Byre
A search is currently underway for a new president of The Evergreen State College and students can influence the outcome. The search is being led by the Presidential Search Disappearing Task Force, which is made up of representatives from the board of trustees, faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Students are invited to participate in the hiring process, and can nominate candidates until Dec. 1 by online submission.
The college is spending more than $70,000 in the process, causing controversy on the Greener Commons and at the town hall meeting on Oct. 1. Evergreen hired its last president more than 14 years ago. The school is paying a hiring a firm to help find the right individual to step up and succeed as the new president. There are some members of the Evergreen community who disagree with this expense.
John Carmichael, the deputy to the president and secretary to the board of trustees, has posted extensively on the Greener Commons, Evergreen’s online forum, about the president search. He explained the reasons for hiring an outside firm.
“Eleven of the 12 colleges advertising for presidents are using search firms,” Carmichael wrote. “The idea is that search consultants help persuade people who aren’t looking for new jobs to apply. And they spend a lot of time at conferences and workshops for people interested in academic administration, so they should be able to reach people that our advertisements might not.”
Carmichael said he hopes that by utilizing a search firm, the pool of candidates will be more diverse and of a higher quality.
Carmichael said that much of the money would have gone toward expenses in the search had the school not gone in the direction of getting outside help. Expenses such as advertising and candidate travel would be Evergreen’s responsibility.
“We’ve often had to hire extra people to help with the coordination and fill in for faculty and staff working on the search rather doing their normal work,” Carmichael stated. Hiring help from an outside firm will avoid that issue. While that money could have been put to use in other ways, proponents say it helps in finding the right candidate for the job, it could pay dividends in the long run.
On Wednesday, Oct. 1 the Presidential Search Task Force held an open meeting inviting students to speak up about what they wanted in a new president. There were a couple ideas and concerns that were echoed by multiple students. Students requested greater transparency in the spending, arguing that they have the right to decide how their tuition money is spent.
Students shared some of the qualities that they wished to see in the new president. One requested that they embody what Evergreen represents, another was that he or she is willing to take risks. Some expressed interest in a president who has proven to be innovative, is experienced, and has the track record to accomplish some of the specific goals that the college is striving towards, such as furthering diversity and increasing enrollment. Some wish to see a president who is accessible and relatable: one who cares and communicates with the students.
Two of the major concepts that were reiterated by multiple students at the meeting were those of student safety and sensitivity to the needs of students with disabilities and transgender students. There were a group of concerns around feeling unsafe on campus, due to bad or no lighting in the dark, as well as the alleged mishandling of sexual assault situations between students. It was also expressed that the school and faculty are ignorant on service animal laws, and that there needs to be an improvement in accessibility as well as the lighting in those areas. Another complaint was that there are unnecessarily gendered single-occupancy restrooms and that there are not enough gender-neutral restrooms on campus.
Though the group who attended was only about 20 in number, multiple individuals were very vocal and passionate about finding the right person to fill previous resident Les Purce’s shoes. Quickly approaching is a Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 12 and 13 where student voices can be heard. A webpage containing information regarding the search is currently being created, and should be up within the next two weeks. The site will contain a link through which potential candidates can be nominated, even by students. Candidates submitted should meet the qualifications and desired attributes listed on the Greener Commons. There is still time for more students to get involved in the process and possibly influence an important decision that could shape the future of Evergreen. More information can be found on the Greener Commons, where there are multiple posts and attached documents. Current information includes the proposed timeline, a desired skills and attributes list, contact information for those involved, and even a summary of an institutional research campus survey relating to the search.
Les Purce has held the college’s presidential position since July 1, 2000. His responsibilities listed in his biography on Evergreen’s website are to oversee “a $158 million biennial operating budget, a $30 million biennial capital budget, approximately 250 full- and part-time faculty and more than 400 staff.” One request from a student at the meeting was for there to be more transparency in the job description of the new president. The more public information regarding the responsibilities of the president, the more they can be held accountable if they do not perform.
In Purce’s public message to students, he said “serving as Evergreen’s president continues to be one of the great joys of my life. In no small part, that joy comes from the dedicated and determined group of faculty and staff whom I have the privilege to call colleagues and the students with whom I engage every day. We have done some extraordinary work together and have more to do over the next year. I very much look forward to working with all of you in my final year as president.”