The search continues: Whitman’s hunt for the next president

Sara Marshall, News Reporter

With Kathy Murray set to retire at the end of the academic year, the Board of Trustees and Presidential Search Committee is in the midst of their closed search for Whitman’s next president. 

Given the confidential nature of the search, Danielle Garbe Reser, Chair for the Presidential Search Committee, is the only member authorized to give official statements about the search.

The presidential search committee updates, arriving as periodic emails to the Whitman community, have remained purposefully vague. Very little is known about the identity or qualifications of the presidential candidates, but it is implied that many of the candidates are in high-ranking positions at institutions outside of Walla Walla.

“These individuals hold significant positions where they are currently. We want to honor their wishes to continue to explore this exceptional opportunity with the assurances that their engagement in our search will not become widely known at their home institutions,” said Garbe Reser in a recent presidential search update.

Overseen by the Board of Trustees, the Presidential Search Committee consists of 17 members made up of two students, two staff, four faculty, nine trustees and alumni leaders and one non-voting diversity advocate. 

Current ASWC President Salma Anguiano and Christian Wallace-Bailey serve as the two student representatives. The two staff members are Campus Sustainability Coordinator Elissa Brown and Reunion Giving Officer Claire Evans. Professor of History and Asian & Middle Eastern Studies Brian Dott, Associate Professor of Philosophy Rebecca Hanrahan, Professor of Physics Kurt Hoffman and Associate Professor of Religion and South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Lauren Osborne make up the faculty positions on the search committee. The trustees and alumni leaders are composed of Danielle Garbe Reser ’97, Chair, Joseph Davis ‘80, Kirsten (Adams) Gable ‘01, Stephen Hammond ‘79, Peter Lewis ‘81, Aaron Perrine ‘99, Akshay Shetty ‘99, Jonathan Sposato ‘89 and alumni parent Julie Taylor. Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean for Faculty Development Helen Kim is acting as the diversity advocate for the search committee. 

On April 14, 2021, the faculty of the Whitman chapter of the American Association of College Professors (AAUP) passed a resolution in support of open presidential searches. The AAUP argued that having the confidence and support of the Whitman community, including a diverse range of perspectives, Whitman’s long history of open searches and the open searches utilized at Pomona College were grounds against conducting a closed search.

To the chagrin of the AAUP, the search has remained closed. The appeal of a closed search comes from the strict adherence to confidentiality maintained by the search committee. This confidence protects potential presidential candidates from possible backlash from their current employers and enables them to participate in future presidential searches should they not be selected for Whitman.

Despite the lack of an open search, the AAUP has made headway campaigning for the participation of faculty in the shared governance of the college. On behalf of the AAUP, Arielle Cooley, President of the AAUP, petitioned Garbe Reser, requesting that Whitman community members be permitted to interact with the Presidential finalists. In a recent statement, Garbe Reser has announced a shift to the hybrid phase of the search.

Our finalists will make private campus visits, and there will be opportunities for small groups of additional campus stakeholders, including students, staff and faculty to meet with the candidates,” Garbe Reser said.

After concerns about transparency, Cooley sees this as a step in the right direction.

“We are very pleased that the Presidential Search Committee has decided to allow presidential search finalists to meet with representatives of different campus groups in person. We recognize that the committee is working hard to support candidates’ requests for privacy, and we commend this step towards openness,” said Cooley.

The AAUP has requested to be included as one of the groups allowed to meet with the finalists.

The pool of applicants has been whittled down to a select group of finalists and, following the upcoming campus visits, the committee may soon make a decision, potentially by the end of the year.

“We are on track to have an announcement by the end of 2021 with the goal of having our next president in place by the beginning of the next academic year on July 1, 2022,” said Garbe Reser.