W&M presidential search moving into next phase

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

H. Thomas Watkins believes the College of William and Mary’s Presidential Search Committee members need to keep talking — to anyone willing to listen — about what members are doing.

The group’s chairman told members to keep meeting with local and national groups to keep them informed about the college’s search for a new president.

That open communication, however, will cease as the board moves into its next phase of the search.

The committee continues to look for viable candidates to replace president Taylor Reveley, who is retiring in June 2018.

The committee includes faculty, staff, a current student, a recent alum and chancellor Robert Gates — himself a former president at Texas A&M University.

All 19 members of the college’s search committee have held a total of 155 meetings to talk about the search for Reveley’s replacement.

“I would hope this number of meetings is coupled with a desire to want to talk with everybody,” said Watkins, committee chairman and vice rector of the college’s Board of Visitors.

Watkins said the next phase of the search — which started in early September and includes research by representatives from Illinois-based consulting firm Witt/Kieffer — will be held closer to the vest than the early phases.

Committee member Doug Bunch said he’d like to find some way to inform the community on the rationale behind keeping much of the search private during the next couple of months.

Bunch said the switch from being very public and open to being more closed may confuse people.

“To the extent we could educate people about why we are doing the search the way we are doing it, I think that would be important,” Bunch said.

This week, the college released its Presidential Search Profile, making public the document that presidential candidates will mull over as they consider the job.

It includes information on the history of the college, its financial position and its reputation among other institutions of higher education in Virginia.

English professor Suzanne Reitt said the profile impressed her colleagues, many of who were struck by the focus on turning the college into a more inclusive institution.

“I think that’s very important,” Watkins said of the focus on promoting diversity at the college.

Paul Heideman, a biology professor at the college, said his colleagues understand why the search will be more confidential as it moves forward.

Faculty don’t mind the secrecy, he said — their worry is that the committee or the search firm may overlook attractive candidates too early.

“The concerns are around if people are going to be weeded out before (faculty) get a chance to speak with them,” Heideman said.

Watkins has previously said that many universities around the country now favor keeping their candidates secret until they’ve decided on one.

In previous years, the school would make public the finalists before finishing its search for a president. These days, schools are more reluctant to expose their candidates, lest they become alienated at their current jobs.

Between November and February 2018, the committee will bring two to three candidates to the Board of Visitors for their consideration.

Watkins said the board will remain flexible during the search process.

“The world isn’t totally predictable,” he said. “We could always reboot, or change, whatever we need to do.”

The next committee meeting will be on Nov. 17.

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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