By the end of the school year, Knox will have a new Dean of the College. Finding a replacement for Larry Breitborde will not be an easy task, nor should it be: choosing the person who will oversee the college’s academic programs necessitates varied input and constant communication. An open, inclusive search process is the best way to find the best dean. Unfortunately, the search committee has yet to give a solid indication that it will follow this course.
Knox prides itself on the accessibility of its faculty and staff, and Breitborde has emulated this trait. From working one-on-one with students on their Fulbright Fellowship applications to playing the accordion in a mainstage play, he has integrated himself into all facets of campus life. Within the boundaries of his job description, he has actively searched for ways to fine-tune the college’s curriculum, both in terms of content and the academic calendar. And he has acted as a mediator in faculty-wide discussions, reserving his own thoughts until others have a chance to air theirs, but always throwing in a few words when he feels he needs to.
But perhaps the most crucial aspect of Breitborde’s role was his insistence upon listening to the Knox community. When a discussion about diversity education at Knox was held at the Allied Blacks for Liberty and Equality House in February 2012, Breitborde attended to explain his take on the issue and hear students’ concerns. When he noticed shortcomings in the pedagogy of Freshman Preceptorial, he brought the idea before the faculty for discussion rather than imposing it unilaterally. This openness helped create a bridge between students, faculty and the administration, connecting ideas and visions for what the curriculum should look like.
It is this openness that the search committee needs to mimic. During the 2010-2011 school year, students repeatedly bemoaned the lack of opportunities to give input on the search for Knox’s next president. Updates on the committee’s progress between the beginning of the school year and when the final three candidates arrived in the winter came primarily from TKS. Forums with each of these candidates were well-attended, but prior to that, students had to rely on the two student members of the search committee to represent their interests with very little communication as to what students actually wanted. While most were happy with the eventual selection of President Teresa Amott, the lack of student involvement in the process remained a sore point.
So far, the openness of the committee has been disappointing. The TKS editorial board stumbled across a page about the search on the Knox website while doing unrelated research. While the page does a good job of laying out what sort of person the committee is seeking, it does not provide information on committee membership. Students cannot know if their interests are being represented if they don’t even know who sits on the committee. A timeline for the search process is also conspicuously missing. Most importantly, this page is buried in sidebars, not featured prominently where people will find it. Freshmen who did not attend opening convocation might not even know that Breitborde will be leaving, and it is they who will be most affected by the person who follows him.
This is not to say that the entire student body should dictate the search process. Keeping too many cooks out of the kitchen was the reason a committee was created in the first place. Still, informing the student body and updating them on the search is essential. The search webpage is a decent start, but its incompleteness brings back less than pleasant memories of the presidential search process, and the lack of any other communication with students about the search is unnerving at best and disenfranchising at worst. The academic program is the core of the Knox experience, and every student therefore has an interest in the person who oversees that program. Without involving this constituency, the search process may well leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouths.