Campus / News / February 2, 2011

Candidates visit campus to meet faculty, students

*Name has been changed

This week and last week, the three candidates for the position of president of Knox College visited campus to undergo a second round of interviews with the Presidential Search Committee. During their visits, the candidates toured campus and also met with the faculty, staff and students in separate question and answer sessions.

Students had an hour with each candidate (two female candidates and one male candidate) after short introductions by Chair of the Presidential Search Committee Richard Riddell, ’72, and the two student members of the Presidential Search Committee, senior Ari Timko and sophomore Kate Haslem.

Students packed Ferris Lounge for the Q & A sessions, and most came with questions to ask. Many were curious about how the candidates planned to handle fundraising and financial issues at Knox, how they would balance student desires to know about administrative affairs with needs for confidentiality and policies for the Honor Board and sexual assault prevention, amongst other things. Candidates focused on the need for fundraising and Knox’s reputation for student involvement and freedom. All three candidates currently hold administrative positions at small liberal arts colleges, and no candidates have officially announced to their home institutions that they are candidates for Knox’s presidency.

At each student session, attendees were given a curriculum vitae for the candidate which they were not allowed to take with them after the session completed. Following each session, attendees had 24 hours to fill out an online survey about their opinion of each candidate.

Sally*, the first candidate, is an associate dean of her current institution. When asked by senior Abe Zumwalt about how she planned to handle the financial side of the college, she said, “I am aware that I won’t have that kind of background. There’s no point in pretending that.” The main thing that drew her to Knox, she said, was the mission statement of the college.

“She was definitely a strong candidate, but she seems like more of a dean of students than a president,” sophomore Firas Suqi said of Sally. “She doesn’t have all the qualifications a president needs, like financial and economic knowledge.  But for students, she would be great.  Academics-wise, it seems that she would enhance the school.”

Her top three priorities would be to enhance the budget, improve faculty salaries and restore Alumni Hall.

Knox’s mission statement and the personality of its students were also the main reasons the second candidate, George*, was drawn to applying for the position of president. At his home institution, he is currently the dean of the college.

“The first thing that excites me about Knox College is the way in which this part of the mission statement seems to be authentic,” he said. “In many places, that’s not true. You seem to be authentically progressive and egalitarian.”

George also said that, while he realizes it will be hard to balance student desire to know about administrative issues, he would try to be as open to students as possible, especially with those in leadership positions. He also said that it is important for students to question their institution.

“As an undergrad, I was one of the students that protested and rallied. If a college cannot have discussion about different questions, then you’re not functioning well as a democracy,” George said.

George also has had extensive fundraising experience, as listed in his curriculum vitae. He admitted his biggest weakness is not being as informed about information technology as he should be, but by organizing a staff that is informed about such things, he could compensate for his lack of technological knowledge.

The third candidate, Mary*, currently provost and dean of the faculty at her home campus, also was drawn to the campus because of Knox’s student-focus.

“The diversity of the student body and the student-centeredness of Knox…those two things at the core of the mission of the institution were instrumental in my decision to apply,” she said.

Senior and Student Senate President Sam Claypool said she thought Mary would be the best selection for president.

On George and Mary, she said, “I feel like they’re both qualified and I enjoyed listening to both of them. [Mary] wasn’t trying to sell herself. She felt very calm and assured with herself that she is a qualified candidate. The way she responded reflected that. The way she interacted with us won me over with her.”

While Claypool liked George and his energy, she thought a president should be more calming. She also thought that, because of Sally’s lack of fundraising experience, she was not as qualified as the other two candidates.

Mary and Sally both think a top priority of the president should be to work on increasing faculty salaries at Knox.

“I think a lot of people here are severely underpaid,” Mary said. “You need to understand that that’s their gift to you.”

Mary said that her top priority, should she be elected to the position, would be fundraising. While she realizes “heart and soul” are important to any institution, she also said, “it won’t hire a counselor. All the love will not sprinkler a dorm and make it a safe place.”

Speaking about her strengths, Sally said, “I don’t have any psychic barriers. I do have experience with writing grant proposals.” She also admitted that she has no experience being at a school with a Greek system.

“She has no clear distinction between what it means to be a president and what it means to be a teacher,” senior Jordan Lanfair said about Sally.

George and Mary both spoke of taking action on their home campuses regarding increasing sustainability. George has started a task force to address how to make their campus more sustainable, and Mary’s current institution composts half of all their cafeteria waste and also has compostable cups and plates on campus.

All three candidates said that, should they be elected to the job, they would want to stay at Knox for the foreseeable future.

Annie Zak

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