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Search committee panel communicates with College

By Peter Sullivan

Until the moment Grinnell College’s president-elect Dr. Raynard Kington walked out on stage, no one but the Presidential Search Committee knew the process and results of the search process. The Grinnell community was informed at a search committee panel last Tuesday.

The search committee, consisting of seven trustees, four faculty members, one alumnus, one student and one staff member, began their work in July by splitting into two groups—one to communicate with the campus about its hopes for a new president, and one to write “Grinnell Perspectives,” a document describing the College to the candidates and what it was looking for in a president.

Members of the Grinnell community and others nominated candidates for the job and the search firm hired by the committee, Isaacson Miller, then collected biographical information. On Nov. 16, the committee reduced the list down from about 200 candidates to around 30, before choosing 10 finalists. The 10 finalists were interviewed in Chicago in mid-January. From these 10 came the final four, who were all then vetted by the search firm. The committed further cut the 10 to four after they held individual dinners for the candidates. The committee conducted a final interview on Feb. 10 and 11 in Des Moines, and the committee unanimously recommended Kington to the Board of Trustees on Feb. 12, who in turn voted unanimously to make him the College’s 13th president.

A central topic of discussion at the panel last Tuesday was the decision to not bring the candidates to campus to meet with the wider community, as had been the case in the search for President Russell K. Osgood.

“How do you encourage candidates to stay in the running if they’re not sure it will remain confidential?” said Jack Mutti, a member of the committee and Professor of Economics.
Mutti explained that if the candidates came to campus they may have faced negative repercussions from their former employers. To this end, confidentiality was a priority in the decision making process.

The decision to choose a president with no experience working at a liberal arts institution brought a question from the attendees.

“We decided at the very beginning we were not going to limit our search to those with experience at a liberal arts institution,” said Daniel Reynolds, a member of the committee and an Associate Professor of German. “Rather we would look at those who would be a good leader of a liberal arts institution.”

Jan Gross, member of the committee and Professor of French, said at the panel that she too had concerns about his background in academia..
“The way he responded to me was very heartening,” Gross said.

Committee members thought he spoke well on the strategies to run a college.

“We were impressed by his instincts on how to push the conversation further,” Mutti said.
Jon Richardson ’10, the only student on the Presidential Search Committee, addressed students’ concern that Kington’s medical research on the effects of  drinking would mean new alcohol policies at the College.

“[That] was a concern of mine also, but it wasn’t something that continued to be a concern of mine after he addressed that,” Richardson said.  “He was very clear about not just coming in and putting rules in place.”

Richardson also stressed how well the committee worked together, perhaps a surprise due to the current tensions between students, faculty and the administration.

“I thought I would be going into this with my boxing gloves on,” Richardson said. “[But], the trustees’ version of Grinnell and my version meshed very well.”

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