14th President Murray will lead college into next phase

Emily Lin-Jones

Lachlan Johnson contributed reporting.

Last Thursday the Presidential Search Committee named Kathleen Murray, currently provost and dean of faculty at Macalester College, as Whitman’s 14th president. Murray’s selection was the culmination of a months-long nationwide search that involved a committee of trustees, overseers, faculty members, staff and students.

Photo by Annabelle Marcovici.
Photo by Annabelle Marcovici.

The search for Whitman’s next president began in March following President George Bridges’ announcement that he would be leaving his position at the end of the 2015 academic year. Before beginning the search, the committee administered a survey to the community about qualities that they would prioritize in a potential candidate. However, details of the search itself remained confidential until last week’s announcement.

Over the summer the committee reviewed over 100 applications, followed by a round of interviews with 13 candidates and eventually four finalists.

Of the four final candidates, Murray’s experience and clear plan for the college’s future made an impression on the committee, who unanimously recommended her to the Board of Trustees for approval.

“She had a very clear and specific vision for Whitman College, one that we thought aligned with the goals and aspirations of the community,” said senior Jack Percival, one of two student members of the Presidential Search Committee. “She’s a good listener, very compassionate and also very passionate about liberal arts, about student learning, about Whitman in general. It felt like she had [already] been at Whitman a long time.”

Professor of Psychology Melissa Clearfield, one of four faculty members on the search committee, agreed that Murray was a good fit for the community.

“Kathy just got Whitman,” she said. “She was just really inspirational in the way she spoke about Whitman.”

Chairman of the Board of Trustees Brad McMurchie cited Murray’s experience in leadership roles in higher education, particularly in the liberal arts, as part of the reason she stood out to the board during the selection process. In her seven-year tenure at Macalester, she led a campaign to finance the renovation of its fine arts center and served as acting president of the college for the fall 2013 semester. This year, she played a key role in developing a strategic plan for Macalester’s financial and institutional future.

“Beyond [her experience] … she’s just an incredibly warm and engaging person who I think will really serve the community well with her personal style,” said McMurchie.

As for Murray’s role in the future of the college, the search committee and the Board of Trustees, as well as Murray herself, have made it clear that developing a strategic plan for the college will be one of her first priorities as president. What that plan will look like is yet to be fully revealed, but for now Murray has stated that engaging and soliciting input from the community will be her first step.

“What I would most like to see is her meeting with a lot of different constituencies and getting a lot of input,” said Percival.

Though she will not assume her new role until July 2015, Murray plans to make more visits to campus in the coming months to meet and talk with community members.

“People should come to her events when she’s on campus … and meet her,” said Clearfield. “I think this is a really exciting time for Whitman, and I think she’s the right person to be leading us through that.”

In an interview with The Pioneer last week, Murray emphasized needing to become familiar with campus culture and values before leading Whitman into its next phase.

“We do need to move fairly quickly into a strategic planning process, but we can’t do that until I understand the community a little bit better than I do,” she said. “That process has to be really true to the community, and that’s the piece I really want to make sure we get right.”